by Donna McBride, Council Member, City of Casa Grande
There’s an old saying, “You can never go home again.” I have lived in Arizona for over four decades now, but I still consider West Virginia home. I wrestle with that often, wondering if I am not being fair to Arizona and my family.
Growing up there had its challenges and barriers, but with that came values and traditions that will stay embedded in me. Looking back, I remember my Mama Tess sharing stories of her own childhood. Even after the dementia set in, she could still travel back to that era.
She grew up in the hills of Calhoun County, West Virginia. Her eight brothers and sisters truly lived on the side of a mountain down a one-lane holler. She walked uphill in the snow for miles to catch the school bus in a dress often made of burlap potato sacks. And her beauty was just as vibrant as the rolling hills of green grass, trees and ponds where they caught minnows and frogs.
When I moved to Arizona, she soon followed me out here after enjoying several years as a winter visitor. The beauty of Arizona called to her much like it did me. She and I both found our way here for different reasons. We both stayed for the same. We had found a “new home.”
Life often catches us up in a tornado of work obligations, raising families, etc. Sometimes we need to slow down and backtrack where we’ve come from – to appreciate where we are.
With Mama Tess being ill for so long, it just wasn’t possible to take her back to West Virginia to visit. She’s been my guardian angel for nearly three years, and I realized there was no excuse for me now. I made my first trip “home” in 16 years.
It was a trip of many “firsts” for me. It was the first time in my life she wasn’t with me. It was the first time my brother (Don), sister (Dotty) and I were together without her. We had such a good time remembering some of the things Mama Tess did and our own secrets we thought she never knew about. We enjoyed each other in a new, profound way – without her. No doubt she was there in spirit, laughing over our stories and knowing we didn’t fool her after all.
I drove past our old neighborhoods, wondering who took over my room, visualizing all the nooks and hiding places we had as kids. I saw the homeowner walking up to the front door after a day at work. (I am sure he was wondering who the crazies were in the car across the road.) I wanted to ask permission to slip in to get a look at the place I so vividly remember. But I stopped myself. I didn’t want those screenshots in my mind to change. I didn’t want to see other people’s stuff in my house.
It was heartwarming to see a childhood friend after 40 years and visit my only surviving aunt and uncle knowing it might be the last time. We drove past the old family farm, stopping on the one-lane bridge and walking in the woods that were as familiar to me as my daily commute to work.
It was also bittersweet making that steep drive up the mountain to our private family cemetery, where I would see Mama Tess’s memory bench for the first time.
West Virginia will forever be my childhood home, filled with memories I need to have. They have helped shape me into who I am today. And my beautiful Arizona home is where my values, my character, my family and new life have kept me moving in the right direction. I have two families. Both so incredibly unique, thousands of miles apart but centered in one place – my heart.