Should I return to my childhood home town? This might be the question you are asking yourself. Perhaps my experience will help you with your decision.
If you haven’t heard of Burgess Hill, then I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, if you had heard of it I would look back with a gaping mouth and a frowning brow. However, for me it is a place where I spent much of my childhood and is an idyllic utopia where only good things happen and everyone is your friend. That forms part of the problem. Burgess Hill fills me with many warm memories and very few bad ones. I had not returned to my childhood town since I left as a bright-eyed nine-year-old with a pommy accent and a large stuffed bunny under my arm.
Part of me wondered if I should go back, as I suspected it would not be the paradise I remember so fondly. I had one friend from this time with whom I had remained in contact. Initially we had been pen pals and then she had visited me twice in New Zealand. It was her idea to take me, my husband, and another friend from London, to return to a place I had always called home.
I’m not sure that it’s possible to emotionally prepare after more than twenty years has passed. When my family first left Burgess Hill and I was taken to the opposite end of the world, I was adamant that I would return on my own as soon I was legally able to leave home. I had no desire to leave the town that formed all the memories I had ever made and housed all my friends in the world. As time passed I lost my urge to return as I acclimatized to my new world. I had not forgotten my old life, but it had faded away into a tender distant memory. As we drove into the town my heart filled with dread and my breath quickened.
Walking through the town center, I was disheartened to find that nothing looked familiar. Many shops had changed and those that hadn’t I wasn’t able to recall. My fear transitioned to disappointment. After stopping at the local pub for a meal and a beer, something I was never able to do as a child, we continued on to the school. I was comforted in the fact that I recognized the buildings and the playground I used to run around in. I was surprised to find the tall looming buildings were much smaller than I remembered and entirely unintimidating.
Our final stop, and arguably the most important, was my old house. We parked the car down the road and me and my entourage of three, wandered up to the uninspiring brick house. It was just as I remembered. This house was a turning point in my life. I had so desperately wished not to leave, but standing in front of the house I realized that leaving had shaped so much of who I was and that wasn’t something I would ever want to change.
As we walked back to the car I spotted the house of an old friend from primary school. I wandered closer to see how much I remembered. As I peered in awkwardly, standing right in the middle of the driveway, the door opened and out walked my friend’s mum. I recognized her immediately and burst into tears. For her, she saw a crazy woman standing on her property bawling her eyes out. She paused and I saw a look of fear cross her eyes, presumably as she calculated how long it would take to run back inside, lock the door, and call the police. Frozen in place, she stood there as I walked towards her and choked out, “Do you remember me?”
A look of familiarity came over her face and she held her arms out to hug me. She invited us all inside and we sat in the lounge with a hot cup of tea. I immediately recognized the room in which I had spent hours playing games. I wouldn’t have thought a more serendipitous moment could have occurred, until my friend from primary school walked down the stairs. He was visiting his parents for the day.
As my two worlds collided and merged into one, I found a sense of peace. I was glad to have returned to my childhood home. I realize how lucky I am to have fond childhood memories and to have friends that span the vast ocean of distance and time. Should you return to your childhood home? Yes; definitely. But it won’t be what you remember, what you expect, what you hope, or what you want. But it might just be a timely reminder of how far you’ve come.