Can You Go Home Again? The Hell if I Know.

I loaded the three boys into the car. We headed to Dallas the four of us, that perfectly symmetrical number that Mr. Blandings had always encouraged; the number of perfect seating be it plane or cab or cafe. We set off to see my hometown and then further south to Dallas, a sort of growing up annex, to see my father and step-mother.

The drive to Tulsa is the drive of all jolly, light-hearted car trips. Four hours. A straight shot. About the time you are ready to get out of the car you are there. The boys had not been to Tulsa before. I only go back for reunions or funerals and these occasions had seemed easier alone, “You didn’t know them; I’ll go by myself and come right back. It will be easier.” I wanted them to see it, though I was filled with trepidation. My childhood resembled my children’s in no way. I did not grow up on a leafy street, playing in the front yard, riding my bike to get ice cream. My neighborhood wasn’t dangerous, just ugly. And empty, though the houses were occupied.

We traveled south, though Spring had yet to show, and it was a drive that can only be described as brown. Oklahoma can be a funny place. I took note of the series of “Marriage Matters” billboards. They seemed to have replaced the pro-life billboards and I wondered if they were sponsored by the same people. Often the signs were close to either another billboard advertising a casino, or close to a casino itself. Oklahoma, as I’m sure you know, means “Land of the Red Man.” I know this because of a semester of Oklahoma history in high school with the slimmest text book I have ever held. Smaller than a Nancy Drew mystery. As we passed the first casino, maybe it was Choctaw Casino, I began to try to recall the five civilized tribes, one of the staples of Oklahoma history.

Cherokee
Choctaw
Chickasaw

Maybe Sioux. Was it three “C”s and then two something elses? Or four “C”s? There was something disconcerting about my knowledge of Native American history and the preponderance of casinos. The same feeling you get when you see the lottery winner with his big, fake check, knowing that he will now be invited to every Sunday dinner where before his phone calls had gone straight to voice mail.

Cherokee
Choctaw
Chickasaw
Creek

That seemed right. Coming in to Tulsa from the North is not all that welcoming. It’s a lot of construction and junky strip malls. I did not call the boys’ attention to the fact that we were there. As we neared my old neighborhood I was stunned. It was achingly sad, horribly depressed and ugly. It’s worse, surely. Isn’t it worse? It could not have been quite this bad when I lived there. I was often oblivious to such things, but I think I would have noticed this.

As we turned the corner into my neighborhood, the boys sat up a little straighter in their seats. My heart was in my throat. I knew how it looked to them and I wasn’t sure this had been a good idea. Coming around the curve I could not look straight on, but turned my head slightly to the side as I said in a false normal voice, “That’s it. The one on the left. Right there.” And I am embarrassed to admit that I felt shame. I did not want them to see it, this childhood home they could not begin to imagine.

They were silent. Searching. They’ve been raised to be polite and even though they put that aside to discuss gas often and much, they could not find words to put to what they were seeing. The youngest finally said, “I think that looks like a nice place to grow up. I like the basketball goal.” The middle added, “It doesn’t look much like Kansas City.”

“Parts of it do.”

Then I drove them down the winding green and leafy streets that look like home. We ate at my favorite hamburger joint from growing up and when they declared it better than Mr. Blandings’s favorite hamburger joint from growing up I did not defend his haunt; I let this stand as something good.

We stopped to get gas and the boys trolled the aisles for candy for the second leg of the trip. As I paid I looked down to see the headlines of the Tulsa World, “6,000 Cheer Palin, Beck,” and tried to remember why I came.

As we turned onto Peoria, a street I’d traveled a million times, I remembered. Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole.

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61 thoughts on “Can You Go Home Again? The Hell if I Know.

  1. Beautifully written-poetic, as always. I had similar feelings when I took my children to see the house where I grew up–I don't remember it being that small. Thank you, as always, for sharing. Best, Barbara

  2. the most wonderfully beautiful thing I will likely read in some time, my dear lady. YOU are a treasure to us all.

  3. I feel much the same when I go by my childhood's first home. Then I recall the struggles of my parents; raising a family with so many of us. It was also a time of so much less abundance and affluence.

    Maybe that is why we are so drawn to beauty, art, and design in our adult lives.

    Karena
    Art by Karena

  4. The five civilized tribes! My dad is from OKC, I hear about that all the time! Happy Easter!
    p.s. and if you want a good laugh, Tim McGraw's "Indian Outlaw" is a pretty great listing of some of the tribes

  5. Nice writing. I grew up in a nice enough neighborhood, but our house was always falling apart, because my parents didn't really care about their house, and they spent a lot of money to send us to private school.

    While I definitely appreciated the school, there was a lot of neglect in terms of the house that wasn't strictly money-related. A nice house just wasn't important to my parents, particularly my mother. Because my friends lived in showplaces, I was even more embarrassed.

    However, all in all,things certainly could have been worse. That said, I have vowed to make sure my daughter is never embarrassed to have friends over.

  6. Your post today really hit home with me. My childhood in the 50s and 60s was MUCH different than my children's. It's hard to go back there when I visit my hometown of Cincinnati, but I have moved on. I'm a little familiar with Tulsa, my inlaws lived there – up behind St. Vincents hospital – a world away from where I grew up. But aren't we fortunate to be able to give our children a different life. Love your blog.

  7. Four C's and an S: Seminole. Taking my son back to Oklahoma as a young one, he was always impressed with the red dirt. Always took some back for show and tell. I miss the stories of Oklahoma, the cadence in the voices. I don't miss the politics which have gone cuckoo. From Alice Walker surveying her mother's garden in early fall, I learned an important life lesson: take what you can use and let the rest rot. Perhaps the lesson you learned that you now take for granted: survival and the ability to move on. Not such a small thing. My vanity tag on my car says: Yippeea. It's my small nod to the goodness in Oklahoma. One of my cherished "takeaways:" all of my best friends from childhood and college are Democrats.

  8. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to comment on these.

    Karena – that is a lovely perspective – you may be right.

    And, HBD – someday I hope you email me personally; I'd love to meet.

  9. I used to go home until I could no longer bear the changes to my childhood neighborhood. Home is in the memories, not the structure. Treasure them, keep them near, and always be grateful for good times.

  10. Your post moved me to tears…calling up scenes from my childhood, and memories of hiding my whereabouts from friends at the private school I attended. Yes, aesthetics, color, design, style, beautiful fabrics–all of these mean so much to me now. You have given me a little more insight as to why they are so important to me, and why I cannot live and breathe without them.

    Thank you for chronicling your trip with your sons.

    Sheila

  11. So good to know I'm not the only one who has trouble going back. Which means, I suppose, that I'm much happier to be where I am now and not nostalgic at all about where I started from. (nostalgia has always seemed highly overrated to me… do you think that's why?) Also, you must be so pleased to have raised such good boys who were able to notice the positive similarites and not just the glaring differences. Way to go, mom.

  12. Patricia, this is so beautiful. I don't have children but I was a Child. I've returned to my hometown- Taking your boys to yours will be a Life memory.They will love you for it. We are always talking beauty, style, grace, Homes- as with people- must be judged from the all that is within. My mother, from some privilege and running several houses- still recalls her favourite- my parents first- a little cinderblock. As she said- it was the hardest won. All the comments left on this post are wonderful too-this is One of your best, Oscar worthy.

  13. We drove my daughters past the first house that my parents owned, in Enid, it was grim. The house in which we were living, in Tulsa, when they were born, fared much better. BTW, Oklahoma means home of the red man. Oklahoma is second only to Alaska in American Indian and Native Alaskan population.

  14. I did the same with all my boys years ago (for an Elementary School reunion). And like you experienced, it was the quietest they'd ever been in the car. We went from the comfort of the leafy city burbs to a teeny-tiny country town on dry, dusty plains. Half the stores in the main street were derelict & boarded up, it seemed a sad & desolate place to be. But the warmth of our welcome by wonderful people quickly despatched those feelings. It was a very valuable life lesson for all the members of The House of the Raising Sons. Your story was so beautifully told Patricia.
    Millie ^_^
    P.S. I was press-ganged into a attending a Conference at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in CT. a few years ago. It was a long way to go from Australia to experience the most colours I've ever seen woven into one carpet!

  15. Dear Mrs. B.,

    I, too, live in beautiful Kansas City and enjoy your wonderful blog. However, I am a bit saddened by this post. There is no shame in showing your children where you were raised, no matter the current state of the neighborhood. What a wonderful opportunity to point out to your children how fortunate they are to now live in such a wonderful home, and why it is important to be grateful and respectful of what you have.

    Yours truly,

    Stefanie

  16. Although I love the absolute pleasure of good design, have often found the shallowness and snobbery of some of the people working in that field to be rather off-putting.

    You, however, bring a heart and a soul to all this beauty. Thank you for such a touching piece.

  17. Hell if I know either Mrs. Blandings. But,I do know a thing or two about that red dirt you speak of. I lived in Midwest City Oklahoma. Tinker AFB for 3 years. I have wonderful childhood memories of those days. Specifically, jumping on a huge airplane tire my Father came home with one day. No trampolines with nets back then! It is hard to imagine what my children would think of the dismal little base housing we called home…

    My husband took my son to New Jersey to see his small childhood home on a picturesque tree lined street not long ago. He said it was great….or maybe that was the Mets game he saw later that day!

  18. As with the others I was engrossed seeing where this was heading due its title. This trip will be one your children will definitely remember as did I seeing where my parents lived when they were growing up. It is important, and of great value. My best for a wonderful weekend. Tina

  19. Patricia,

    I've been so out of touch and busy but this piece really was special and a great way to re-enter world of blog.

    I, too, lived a less affluent life as a child because of my parents divorce primarily. My grandparents house was beautiful and special, a place I spent a lot of my childhood with two working parents.

    But, I can honestly say, I've been thinking a lot lately about the drive and determination growing up modestly instilled in me. And not just for $$$, more for a bigger, broader world of knowledge and view.

    I'm so happy my daughter has a beautiful home, high thread count sheets, a new wardrobe for every season and a premier education. She is a doll, so appreciative and grateful NOW. I just hope it lasts. It's made me wonder how different she might be as an adult than I am. I just wonder….

    Thoughts? Hope you are well.

    What did you ever do with your Dining Room chairs? Guess what's happened here—notta! Cobbler has no shoes.

  20. Just yesterday, on the road trip home, we stopped for a tour of my alma mater, UC, and I showed them around with such enthusiasm. All the while, I was pointing out what was the same and what had changed. I felt that my college looked better than I even remembered and they said, "What a nice place." We had lunch at "Skyline" chili and they had to order from the menu that has not changed since my college days. It is good to know some things have stayed the same.
    Again, one of my favorite posts.
    You never cease to amaze me.

  21. I saw a sign at a diner this afternoon: Home is where the people that love you are. So yeah, you can go home, it just might have a different address.

    Marija

    By the way, I took a picture of it. Wasn't quite sure why. Reading your post a few hours later gave it some perspective.

  22. It is never the same is it– hills that looked like mountains , little ponds we swam in that looked like Lake Michigan, the pretty Bungalows, and trees that lined the streets, forgotten as the young people moved away to bigger and better and newer homes…our memories are now just our childhood dreams —

    Lovely story, sad to go back sometimes – but it is so good for the soul – glad you got to share a part of you with your family, your boys seems so sweet and humble.

    Happy Easter,
    Joanny

  23. Just a delightful article. Very clever…I love your attitude. You're a very good mom!!

    Happy Easter!

  24. Such a thoughtful post, Patricia. You have such a lovely voice when you write—
    Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  25. I always say this but it's true, these are my favorite posts.

    One evening this week I took the scooter out for a ride. Coming down the street there was a little guy on the sidewalk who gave me a friendly smile and a wave. Now I'm wondering if he wasn't yours.

  26. You are so brave. Once I learned the truth about going home, I have kept my eyes fixed on moving forward. Home is definitely where the heart is at this very moment of being. Have a wonderful happy Easter with all of those men.

  27. Your story was so touching! We all wonder at times about where we came from, where we are going, and how we choose to surround ourselves on our journey. There is a satisfying comfort in creating intentional beauty out of everyday chaos. That must be why so many of us are consumed with the process of design! A pretty spot to call home, whether modest or grand, can truly nourish the spirit. Thanks for sharing your personal reflections with us.

  28. Your boys can only grow in a positive direction when they realize not everyone lives in a castle. And the most important thing is being authentic to who you are. Where you live is not a reflection of who you are as a kind, decent person who does the best with what they have. your parents obviously loved you very much to give you the opportunities in your childhood that led you to where and who you are today. And that is certainly something to be proud of!

  29. Mrs. B.
    Beautifully written, as usual. I think you took them back because you are an authentic humble person. Your children will be the better for it, having you as a role model in how to live an authentic life.Thanks for the inspiration.

  30. Patricia, the essays just become more and more moving as you continue to share. Really, one of your best.

    Gaye sort of conveyed this already, and you have too, but I think the feelings one has when looking back at a former home have more to do with how happy it was on the inside. That sounds so greeting card cliche! But it explains why some people say they lived the happiest years in the least attractive house. And others have painful memories of living in a chic, photo-ready place.

  31. Sometime in the future you'll have a rough parenting day, as we all do. And you can remember how your boys dealt with your feelings, and made an effort, and you'll feel proud.

  32. I love this piece;a drive described as brown. I know what you mean, having spent many years in Texas, where there are many brown drives. I especially appreciate how nervous you were, and how stunned you were by the ugliness of the place! And your children sitting up straighter. Just perfect. And they were so gracious about the house, how lovely they are! Wonderful read, and thank you!

  33. This was lovely writing, but I can't leave without posting more about Oklahoma. I hate for everyone to be left with a description of Oklahoma as full of casinos, flat brownness for miles and miles and political leanings even redder than our beautiful red dirt. Of course, there is truth to all of that, but we are so much more. We're a place full of generosity and creativity and growth. I understand the post was about returning home, but there's more than the home you described.

  34. Lauren – of course, this was a snap shot of the trip. Regular readers know my love of the people and beauty of the midwest (of which I consider Oklahoma part, though it is southern, too.) I hope I did touch on how lovely Tulsa is in the last part of the piece. The first thing I always say about it is that it is a beautiful city and was a wonderful place to grow up. I do hope I didn't offend.

  35. Mrs. Blandings,

    You have talent far beyond commenting on decor. You have a wonderful gift that reaches people. Keep at it and bring us back more…in a book form.

  36. Powerful. I've never again, after pulling out of the driveway behind the moving van, darkened the street on which my marital home sits

  37. Your most beautiful post yet! I love the personal ones. You need to be writing a book!!! I think you are a modern day Dee Hardie and I miss her so from the pages of House Beautiful.

  38. Lest you not forget, Oklahoma is much more than the home you described…and the home you described is in every city!

    Sandie Browne

  39. Mrs. Blandings, I love reading your posts on design. I am terribly homesick when you write about Kansas City. But this is my favorite. I love knowing from where you came. It makes you real, and reassures us (OK, me) that no one is perfect. I hope you have a beautiful Easter with your family. xo

  40. Aww. Bittersweet stuff leaves me with little to say. Agree with Anon above that place is a lot of places and many a wonderful person grew up there.

  41. Oh so very poignant, I understand. Going back to my hometown the few times that I have has been strange. I didn't, in my memories, see it as such an ugly place, and yet, I can't really say that it had changed drastically. Isn't memory a funny thing?

  42. Oh I wish you had let me know Patricia, I was out and about on Saturday. My son was at Clauds grabbing a burger, if that is where you stopped.

    My parents had a similar thing happen to them when they returned to Philadelphia after 20 some years. They were stationed there in the 60's and when my sister moved there they went for a visit.
    I believe they had the same reaction, the neighborhood was not how they had remembered. It was not the same, nor was the building, the entire area had changed.I think they were a little down trodden, but it is epic to say the least " things do change".
    At least you have your memories and can remember the way thngs were in the past. A wonderful thing to hold onto.

    Regardless of the structure of a house it is what is inside that makes a house a home. Never be ashamed of where you come from, it is your starting point to where you will go to. Without a beginning there can be no journey. Things change, but you take the good parts with you.

    I was trying to remember the 5 tribes as well only retaining the last Seminole when I got to your last paragraph.
    I hope you had a wonderful Easter holiday.

    I guess you can go home; just never to the exact place you remember. Something will always be different.
    L.

  43. You are a wonderful writer, Patricia. I hope someday that you will consider putting something (a book?) together that will combine your design expertise with your kind heart. In my little blog world that has four or five comments on a good day, you are the "popular girl" who always has a encouraging word of support. Thank you.

  44. I really enjoyed reading this, it moved me like all the other readers. I will be going 'home' in the next few months. We are moving from our beloved London to AZ after 11 years here. It has been nearly 20 since I last lived in the US, I am eager to be a part of America again, but wonder if my childhood memories will be as true to me as they are in my mind. Am a new follower, will be back for more.

  45. Mrs. Blandings (Patricia),

    I've lost so much time of late, yet, nevertheless, found my way here to read this very personal and poignant story. It is hard for each of us to go home, hence the famed title, but to share it with your children is to my mind, heroic. Of course, you want them to see and appreciate what, oftentimes, is no longer there, only remembered, but stark reality doesn't come in gossamer.

    The way you spoke of that moment of shame and your boys' need to rise to the occasion to praise and please was heartbreakingly lovely.

  46. How do I love this? Let me count the ways. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this post since I read it. And when I read it, and finished, my only thought was: I hope the book comes out soon.

    Your book.

    Cherokee Choctaw Chickasaw Creek

    Seminole

    [perfection. thank you.]

  47. beautiful. loved this.

    you know, i think a lot of us had homes that our children wouldn't understand today. i was born in a house that stood behind the grocery store my parents owned. it was near the Ship Channel where it smells like rotten eggs all the time from the refineries. i don't think our children feel anything less of us because of our past. they're just glad they have the internet and facebook and cell phones. it's the absence of technology in our early lives that shocks my daughter more than anything. the other day i told her that i vividly remember when all we had was black and white tv with 3 channels. if you can imagine. she couldn't.

  48. Great story! It actually triggered a topic for my blog about Nancy Drew! I really enjoyed your imput about blogging at Westweek 2010 at the PDC! Come again!
    Katie

  49. Beautiful post until the very end…disappointed you had to make the remark about seeing the headlines about Palin and Beck being cheered by 6000 and how that made you wonder why you came back.

  50. I don't remember much but my parents loved Tulsa and my older brothers that were in Lincoln elementarty school when we left seem to love it as well. It's been 20 years since my parents and brothers all went there for a weekend reunion. I relived it through them more or less. Our old home just south of Utica Square seemed nice and I enjoyed identifying aspects of it's exterior from my childhood photos. The St Johns hospital where I was born seemed okay. My grandparents home was no longer there because of a road expansion of hwy 412???. At any rate, I thought it was a clean city.

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