November 28, 2021

YAO | Home for the Holidays

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I spent my four years of high school counting down the months until I could escape to college. I felt stifled by the same view of the maple tree and sidewalk outside my window every day. The unchanging drive to school, then sports practice, then my job, then home. The trails I spent all of middle and high school exploring until I could navigate them with my eyes closed. College would be a welcome change, I thought. The taste of faux-independence would be something different. Something new and exciting. 

But perhaps the saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, has some merit. After nearly four months back in Ithaca, I find myself grateful to come home to my suburban Ohio town for the Thanksgiving holiday. The act of “coming home for the holidays” implies that there was distance at some point, presumably for an extended period of time. This year, coming home serves as a stark reminder that soon, for the first time, I’ll consider my “primary address” to be the rented apartment in whatever city I’m working in and not the house I’ve lived in for 20 odd years of my life. The house whose address I’ve listed on every major form and application up until this point. Coming home now means coming to terms with growing up. 

The pandemic delayed this reckoning with age, independence and moving away. After my brief entanglement with college campus freedom was snuffed out, I spent fall 2020 at home instead of at  Cornell. I took prelims and attended club meetings while my childhood stuffed animals looked on curiously. I felt closed in by the pale green walls of my bedroom as 2020’s Thanksgiving break reverted to those of my grade school years in an anticlimactic fashion. A far cry from the packing and unpacking and repacking that has characterized this holiday break. 

However, I’m starting to realize that the trips to and from my hometown will likely be the norm from now on. It feels like I only just arrived home, yet I’m already folding my clothes and bedsheets into a suitcase in preparation for the trip back to Ithaca. Holidays will turn into small pockets of time to burrow inside feelings of nostalgia with friends and family before returning to school or work. 

The time at home has become all the more precious with its scarcity. I’ve been able to view my hometown in a different light — wearing those nostalgia-colored glasses. Rather than feeling trapped by the familiar, I’m comforted by the trails near my old middle school and the ten-minute car ride to Costco. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to fend for myself these past several months, but I’ve missed my mom’s cooking to a ridiculous degree and barely mind the fuss over layering up before stepping outside in the chilly November air. I’ve never been a huge football fan, but for the first time in 21 years, I’m even feeling some major Ohio State pride (we don’t speak about Saturday’s loss). 

Life is made of transitions, and college is a period with some of the most rapid changes. My family and my childhood neighborhood serve as grounding forces to the dizzying changes that growing older entails. The sights and sounds that I’ve taken for granted throughout those teenage years are anchors I get to revisit each time I make the trek home. My 16-year old self would be reeling at this revelation, but routine doesn’t necessarily always equate to stagnation — sometimes it can symbolize stability and comfort. And I’m looking forward to the next time I can come home and traipse down memory lane, appreciating the familiar and getting ready for what’s to come. 

Katherine Yao is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column, Hello Katie, runs every other Monday this semester.