In the more than twenty years that I have been flying back and forth between my now-home of Albuquerque and my hometown in the Chicago suburbs, from the air I have gotten pretty good at locating the house I grew up in as well as the house that I had bought not too far from it, now sold since my last move back to Albuquerque. I can spot the high school I attended, the quarry-now swimming pool I spent my teens years at with my friends. Then as we travel toward the lake and then around the downtown Loop, I can spot my maternal grandparents' house on the north side of the city. This time I also saw the hospital where I was born at– the same hospital where my grandfather was a doctor on staff– and the high school my mom and her sisters attended.
It had been almost a year until I flew through for a short night's stay this past weekend, on my way to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a talk. I couldn't get there from Albuquerque in one day to arrive before my talk so I split the trip overnight.
I missed my hometown, on the way in, my nose buried in a stack of magazines that had been collecting on my coffee table. We were heading over Lake Michigan when I looked out the window and instantly I thought of my family. I thought of everyone who isn't here anymore: all my grandparents, my parents, and my younger sister.
All the people who make up much of who I am today.
I am proud to be from Chicago, my parents both city dwellers until they married and moved to the suburbs to raise us, all of us born in the city at the same hospital. I'm proud to be a Midwesterner. I live in New Mexico now, that's my home, that's who I am today, but as the plane traveled forward over the Lake, then turning north to come back to land at O'Hare, a series of memories traveled through my mind, various events in my life– many of them routine– that helped me to dream and become the person I am.
They might be silly– thinking about listening to Chicago radio each morning before school– but each one of those events or parts of the daily routine helped me to dream, to think about what I wanted out of life, to experience life.
I ate pizza with my sister and a very good friend that night, in a restaurant chain we had grown up eating at. And when I checked into my hotel there at the airport and poured myself a glass of water I realized something.
Lake Michigan water.
I was taken back to my grandparents' house on the north side and the little jelly jars Grandma left by the sink so one could grab a quick glass of water (Who thought about transmitting germs in those days? Especially within families). The water had a smell to it, and a taste you could only get when it was just out of the tap.
We had well water in Naperville until later when the pipes were finally laid and then (this was after I had moved away), they, too, had Lake Michigan water. To say I couldn't stop drinking it was an understatement. The next morning I made sure to get my fill and enjoy it.
It might seem silly to some but I believe that going back to where you are from, to be reminded of what brought you to where you are today, takes you forward in life. I don't take steps backward in my life but I look backward sometimes at the steps that have been laid. And in them I remember the family and the people who helped me become who I am today. Then I continue my path forward.