You can never go home again

When I was a kid, I heard the phrase “you can never go home again”, but never understood it. I mean, I went home every day after school, so what was wrong with that? It wasn’t until I went to university that I started to appreciate it — I was regularly amazed at how much my hometown seemed to change whenever I was away at school.

When my father died in 2002, the term gained a whole new meaning for me. Suddenly, I couldn’t even go home. My home was where my family lived, which was now only in the past. When my mother moved away, my home became a sightseeing stop.

Then I moved home from Costa Rica, to a house we own. Man, talk about change of perspective.

Okay, let’s get the obvious one out of the way: It’s farking cold. In Santa Ana, the temperature stayed between 15 C and 27 C. Every day. Every single solitary day. All year long. That’s a level of consistency that Canadians find as hard to understand as … well, as hard as it is for Costa Ricans to understand the idea of -40 degrees. It’s not easy to from shorts and sandals and lush green, to thick heavy coats and gloves and a foot of snow.

I was rather amazed that I found the house. I hadn’t driven to the house for a year and a half, and there was a moment when I thought I might get lost. But it was still there, the lawn covered in pink flamingos (a “welcome home” present from my sister, Cathy). Inside, the house looked — at first — almost exactly the way we’d left it.

But there were a few issues. Therein lies the problem with tenants — they never really treat the place the way you want them to. The downstairs heating had been out for a year — a YEAR. It’s a heated floor (heat was supplied via forced air, which does the upstairs), controlled by battery-powered thermostats. The batteries were dead. For some reason, no-one had bothered to THINK about replacing them. Heat was running again after a few hours (the system had to bleed air out of the lines again).

Then there was the handrail into the basement, just about entirely dislocated from the wall. Gashes in a couple of places. And the reality that despite a clear instruction to not allow smoking in the house, someone had smoked. I couldn’t smell it, but Alex could. Allen and Alex made a variety of repairs in those first few days.

I’m actually having problems believing we’re in our house. And I don’t have to be a renter anymore.

The city’s changed. Downtown is bigger. There’s more traffic lights in a few places. A line of houses, stores, and a church are gone from 17th Avenue, where the West LRT will be built in the next couple of years. Stores we went to are gone, and new ones have appeared. (Interesting, the lane reversals on Memorial are still in testing.) It’s almost like walking into an alternate universe version of our home.

Our stuff arrived moved into the house the same day we did. We’ve got a zillion boxes, some of which we haven’t seen since before we moved out of our house in Garrison Woods back in 2007! We’ve got things we’re pulling out of boxes, wondering where we got it … and in a couple of cases, what the heck it is.

For the last year and a half, we lived minimally. We rented a furnished apartment. We had next to no kitchen gadgets (although we did have an espresso machine), very few clothes (you have only one season: warm), not a lot of books, and a single flat panel television. We’ve now got several times that unfolding into the house, and it’s not easy to figure out where it’s all going. At least we have full access to the basement, now.

We bought a car. Calgary’s not a pedestrian-friendly city, unfortunately. Although Calgary Transit does cover a lot of ground, things are far too spread out to use a bus effectively, especially when a toddler is involved. Besides, we want to go out to the mountains without having to book charter tickets. There’s a certain amount of flexibility that is required.

We started looking before we left Costa Rica. Our goal was fairly simple: small, and fuel-efficient. Alex found a black Jetta TDI at Shaganappi Motors, now the only GM dealership in town. It was a used 2006 model year, with about 75,000 clicks on it, but it was a diesel, and in good shape. We put down a deposit, just to make sure it was still around when we got there. The car was purchased in a single day, from the actual test drive all the way through registration, plating, insurance, and financial.

It’s our fifth car in two years. Hopefully it’ll last us a long time to come.

The one thing that has been most consistent for us are the people we know: our family and friends. Even though we haven’t seen some of them in a year and a half, it’s almost like we haven’t left. Like putting on your favourite pants.

Be it ever so different, there’s no place like home.

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