Growing up, I never felt like I had much family. My parents moved my sisters and I from our hometown of Sycamore, Illinois to a suburb of San Diego a few months before I turned two — too young to recognize the monumental change, but young enough to feel like California was the only home I had ever had. I grew up among subdivisions and palms without memory of anything else. Idyllic suburbia was all I knew, and I didn’t bat an eye at the incessant sunshine. 

Every summer — beginning somewhere along the way, though I cannot identify at what age it began — my dad began taking us back each sticky summer. We would drive a grueling 30 hours each way, seldom stopping to sleep. When we did, it was motels or road shoulders, until I came up with a rule: “I’ll only sleep in hotels with the doors on the inside.” My memories of these trips primarily consist of movies on portable DVD players, blasted music, and uncomfortable upright sleep in the backseat. 

Upon our arrival, we’d drive past our ex-homes, no matter how late in the night. My sisters and dad would reminisce while I nodded as if remembering, but really feeling nothing at all. “Just a house,” I’d think. That is, until we pulled into Grandma June’s driveway. Then, we were home. We usually stayed a week or two, attempting to prioritize our maternal grandparents on my mother’s orders. As early as I  can recall, our expectations were that each visit with them would likely be our last. Each goodbye was delivered with the poignancy of permanence, finality. I’ll never forget how Papaw would well up, his misty eyes magnified by his bifocals. Our mother never joined us on these trips. Stories heard in my later ages told me he was not always the soft, sweet man I knew, rather eager to crack the belt. 

These “final” goodbyes lasted well over a decade until 2016 when Mamaw and Papaw both passed within a year of each other. I think it was heartbreak that finally took them. For the former, it was the loss of her eldest child, and the latter could not live without his wife. It wasn’t until they died that I yearned for them — their smoke-stained house, drawers of Little Debbie, worn recliners, their stories and neck hugs. Visits to their house felt like a chore until they were no longer an option. On a dime, they became a lost privilege, and I missed them. Sometimes, you don’t know you’re taking something for granted until it’s no longer there to take. 

I always felt like a visitor, no matter how many times we said “hometown.” My dad was constantly stopped by strangers (to me) to catch up about where he’d been and why. It became clear to me early on that a lot of people in Sycamore knew my dad and his father — partially because they were centerpieces of a local business, but also because they’re talkers. I didn’t know him, but my grandma tells me that when Grandpa Fizz got sick, it got worse. He talked to anyone as long as they let him. This kind of talkativeness, openness, is a trait I did not inherit. 

My last remaining grandparent has left Illinois for a prettier place with a tamer climate, and the routine of our annual visits has been fractured for years now. But I will always value that town, its sprawling cornfields and patched-up asphalt. When I was younger, I felt as if being from a small town added to my character, made me more interesting somehow, although I now see some irony in that. Regardless, it is still part of my story. 

Family is a strange thing. All these people scattered across the country — maybe the world — carrying my blood with them; and I carrying theirs with me. The older I get, I see more and more value in these inherited connections. I find myself compelled to mend the broken ones and foster those that are intact. Family can be lost, but there is something special about knowing, no matter how long it has been since we’ve spoken or seen each other, we’re still family, and we can pick up right where we left off.


  1. Hello Scout,
    I am your cousin Tina from your maternal side. I live in Marietta, Georgia but I grew up in DeKalb, Illinois with your mom and so many extended family members.
    Your writing is absolutly beautiful. As I was reading, I could picture everything you described. Including the smells.
    I look forward to reading more of your brilliant writing.
    Much love,
    Tina Davis Maloney

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