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  • Writer's pictureCindy Kaufman

Going Home Again

There is an expression that says, “you can’t go home again.” The meaning of this is that when you return to a place from your past, it won’t be the same as before…and you won’t be the same as when you left it either. There is so much truth to this, but I’ve also discovered some things never change. We carry them with us. They become a part of us, and when we go back, it’s still home.


In May 2024, I traveled back to the city of my birth, Clearwater, Florida, where my maternal grandparents lived and where I spent many holidays and summers as a kid and a teenager, our family having moved away from the area when I was a baby. Being back in such a familiar place brought back long forgotten memories that were securely embedded deep in the recesses of my brain…and my heart. Street names, familiar sights, and jolted memories of places and things experienced all caught me off guard. It was more of an emotional rendering than I had expected. I became quiet and introspective in the days that followed. Funny how memories can do that to a person.


Driving around the city of Clearwater, I did not recognize much of anything. It has grown and changed over the years. When I drove into certain neighborhoods, however, the familiarity was there and the memories came flooding back. Driving by the local hospital, I could still hear my mother’s voice coming from the front seat of the car when I was a kid as she happily exclaimed and pointed to the hospital, “that’s where you were born!” Morton Plant Hospital, now part of BayCare Health Systems, the sign reads. We didn’t have health systems back in 1961 when I was born at Morton Plant Hospital.

 

From there I drove to the address of the house where my grandparents had lived until my late teens. The house is still there, and I was transported back in time to memories from the 1960s and 1970s as I stood in front of that house…there I was, a little girl getting in the backseat of my grandmother’s Cadillac convertible parked on that same driveway to go out for ice cream…there I am, crossing the street to go to the beauty salon across from my grandmother’s house, which is now a bakery, so that her beautician could give me a short summer haircut…there I was, walking into my grandfather’s workshop adjacent to their house and seeing the calendar with the pin-up girl hanging above his desk…there is my brother and me playing out on the front lawn, trying to catch the little lizards (technically called Brown Anoles) as they ran up the side of the house, hoping we didn’t break their tails off but knowing if we did, they would grow back, or so we were told…there we all are for the summer backyard cookouts with our extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins…and there’s that familiar smell of tobacco coming from my grandfather’s pipe, which I didn’t particularly care for then and wouldn’t care for still today. Standing there in front of that house, I was home again, if only in my mind which had held all of those beautiful memories with all of the love and laughter that happened in that house.

 

My grandparents home when I was a kid.

As I drove away, I thought too about the people that live in that house today and how they have no idea the memories it held for me of family gatherings so long ago. I was happy to see that the house has been maintained in excellent condition, although painted quite a different color scheme from when my grandparents lived there. The front yard is still beautifully landscaped with the two palm trees outside the bedroom window that rustle in the wind.



There’s no other sound like palm fronds rustling in the wind, and that sound is a reminder of my childhood. I think my grandparents would be proud of how beautiful and loved their house appears to be by its current owners all these years later.

 


From there I left and went to the house my grandparents retired to and the one my grandmother lived in at the time of her death. It’s hard to believe how small that house seems today compared to the memories I have of her time living there. Although that house also holds a lot of memories for me, not all of them are happy ones. It was during those years that my parents divorced and my grandfather died. But there are good memories too because my babies were born in those years and they got to meet their grandmother.




Sitting in front of that tiny house in my rental car, I remember the final days of my grandmother’s life when she became hospitalized, never to return home to that house. The last time I was inside that house was to help sort through my grandmother’s belongings. That is a hard day to remember.


After leaving the house, I paid a visit to the cemetery about two miles away where the ashes of my grandmother and grandfather were inurned in a columbarium with plaques denoting their names and years of birth and death. I had only been there once before when her ashes were placed there in 1992.


I discovered a little surprise. I had forgotten that her best friend Ruth who had been a life-long friend, and Ruth’s husband Bob, had also purchased niches next to my grandparents. Ruth and Bob were like an aunt and uncle to me growing up. There they all were, ashes in a row. Four great friends side-by-side through life and side-by-side for eternity.


I had a long conversation with my grandmother standing beside that columbarium. I told her how her death had impacted my life, changed my life, redirected my life toward a career supporting others at end of life. It was because I sat bedside with her for the final three days of her life that I discovered my ability to be comfortable with death and dying. At the young age of 29, I knew my grandmother and shown me I had a gift. I was compelled by this awareness to become a hospice volunteer at the age of 30, which I continued to do for the next 30 years, retiring from hospice volunteering at the age of 60. After my grandmother’s death, I went back to school and earned degrees in psychology and mental health counseling with an emphasis on gerontology and end of life. I pursued a career as an end-of-life doula and continue in that work today. All of this came about due to the lessons learned at my grandmother’s bedside as I tended to and companioned her in her final days and hours and breaths of life. That led to me tending to and companioning countless folks at end of life, a career I am grateful for having. Thank you, Gram.


Following my trip to the cemetery, I went to my grandmother's favorite restaurant, Louis Pappas Fresh Greek. When I was a kid, we drove all the way to Tarpon Springs for lunches and dinners, but now there is a location very close to the cemetery. I enjoyed my grandmothers' favorite Greek salad.  

 

Going home again, the home of my early life that I carry in my heart, at the age of 62 was a bittersweet experience. It felt much like life coming full circle for me as my mother’s voice still echoes in my memories, “that’s where you were born!” In so many ways, literally and figuratively, that statement still rings true.  


I recently had the realization that I am closer now to my death than to my birth. There are fewer days ahead of me than behind me. The sun is beginning to set on my life, so travels back down memory lane like this one are more meaningful to me now than ever before in my life.



Sunset on Clearwater Beach

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