Homeless in Holiday
Where do I return?
I grew up an Army brat, descendent of a Mexican-Norwegian and an Irish Mutt Cocktail, who both met in the ’80s California sun, he from the rancheros, she from the concrete coast of Redondo. Green-gold inland hills of Southern California is our home, or at least where the seeds were pushed thumbdown and left to germinate, almost a decade, and then he reenlisted as an officer, with a young wife, me, and my sister in tow, as the military deposited us across wide plains of America, even a dip to Europe.
With that shuffle in continuous churn, new home, new school, new landmarks, new friends, I lost the full fabric of a hometown, no substantial base, really. Sure, there was Corona, where my grandparents lived, and it steeled itself as best to be some anchor. It was the meeting place for birthdays, holidays, barbecues, always a clogged driveway — the hub, which would sometimes stretch an arm to the Silver Dollar Pancake House on Sixth.
But we were visitors, at least my sister and I, nearly from the beginning. And when you’re gone for long coughs of time, coming back is watching a city settle. There are places, people, that may stick in their foundation, a Circle K always in its right corner, but each trip back a new filter added, or stripped, some surface growth and decay, different tints each year. But that Mediterranean house on Kendall Street, at least that seemed to shift more slowly.
This house is where most of my memories live. How my mother looked before she left, standing in the kitchen, batting jabs from the uncles. Christmases and tamales. Even the tiny insignificant ones. Standing on new carpet, watching a Counting Crows music video, my grandpa says, “You can’t fool me. They put fake trees around his piano, not a piano in a forest.” But that house is empty now. Ken, my grandfather, moved out after the divorce, he had a stroke, too, and he stays in his little rancher on Olive that no one visits, fiddling with his tools and eating his apricots. My grandmother would hang on to it a while longer, the visits thinning, and then this year no more, thanks to assisted living.
Surely there must be that gnaw in the rest of the family, my father and new stepmother even, to forge their own traditions, to make their own familiar senses of holiday with kith and kin. Same as we, in that post-collegiate new-metropolis these-quarters-are-for-laundry way, nudging ourselves through fresh landscapes, Friendsgivings, collecting new Christmas curios, accidental, some forced into place like build-your-own furniture. Regardless, there is a break. Or at least a fraying of the ties.
As my parents did this, an intangible through-line emerged, snaking its way through many backdrops. Tiny untethered memories, nicenesses, single-parent failures turning to victories in hindsight, dangling just barely like threaded popcorn on the tree. Somehow, we accumulated a vague idea of family, history, belonging to something, all cascading in sales and Santa, sugar on the table and salt in the arguments. Some idea of Christmas. I lived in 14 cities, in nine states, two countries. So few seasons similar. Divorce and repair trickled new associations, my stepmother’s parents and their bursting jolly, my mother cutting it alone with my new brother in some peeling Capitol Hill apartment in Denver.
Growth, really. And after the appropriate benchmarks I went out on my own, too, and my parents moved into a new house and things in Corona changed and everything Hanson always in flux. No more anchor, no more meeting place. Unless we really tried. And when it comes to matters like these we’re all just a little too bruised still to really try, something about angry ex-Catholics, false Protestants.
So there exists no hometown. I have pockets and little solitary specials, but that large all-encompassing place of memory, with a moment tucked into every street and park and grocery store, not for me. Mine’s just a map that someone took an eraser to. Haphazard, random, incomplete. But I have my collective memory home, all those popcorns forming a dusty nebula of ideas, traits from people no longer close, fingerprints taken on from partners, friends, coworkers even. Today is Christmas, my second in New York, my first alone in some time, and I am city planning, adding new locations, erecting landmarks, building my municipality into its ever-changing hometown.