Home. It’s where the heart is. There’s no place like it. Especially for the holidays.
As the holiday season approaches, my fellow classmates and colleagues gleefully – or begrudgingly – discuss going to what they call home. This year, I am not travelling to the place or person that I called home, which until recently, would normally be Cleveland, Ohio and my Mom. I have had to shape a place that I have only known for a little over a year into a new place to call home. I did not think I would be able to do this, but I now consider Corvallis, Oregon home.
Last year, in September, I crammed my belongings into my car and headed west with my Mom alongside me on our own personal version of the Oregon Trail. We needed to get to Corvallis in a matter of six days so I could sign a lease and start graduate school. We witnessed great changes along the 3,000-miles of landscape. The first leg of our journey was a 10-hour crawl through the sluggish sepia-toned stretch of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. We spent the night in Des Moines, Iowa before escaping the Midwest into the striking Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. We arrived in the Badlands at dusk, just in time to see the last rays of light sink behind the mountainous horizon, making the sky a deep lavender. We took an early morning hot air balloon ride over the sweeping green pines of the Black Hills. The sunrise cast a shadow of our balloon on the forest of trees below us. Once on solid ground, we hopped back into the car and within another 10 hours, we witnessed the splendor of Yellowstone. We wound our way around the foggy, moss-clad Oregonian mountains. After over fifty hours shared in the car, listening to audiobooks, Spotify playlists, random radio stations, and occasionally the well-known and comfortable silence, we had finally reached Corvallis, Oregon.
It might not be surprising to learn that, as an Ohioan, the only exposure I had to Oregon before moving here was through watching Portlandia on Netflix. The show does not cover what I saw when I arrived in the state which I would soon call home.
I was at the wheel when my Mom and I arrived in Corvallis. The GPS was begging me to go to my new apartment to unpack the stuffed car, but I had another idea first. I saw signs for Oregon State University and followed.
Mercyhurst University, where I attended undergrad, is a small private liberal arts school in Erie, Pennsylvania. It has all of five academic halls, three dorms, two streets of on-campus apartments, and a partridge in a pear tree. In this case, the partridge is a falcon that likes to hang out in the quad. I found myself calling Mercyhurst my home away from home. It was where my stuff was, and my friends were. Yet my home-home was always in Cleveland, with my Mom.
My Mom had me when she was just seventeen, I was the high school oopsie-baby, but she never made me feel like I was an accident or unwanted. I was raised by her, my grandma, and my great-grandma, a matriarchal family. The relationship I had with my Mom can only really be compared to what Lorelai and Rory have on Gilmore Girls. We told each other everything, we were almost always laughing (unless we were bickering), we were movie buffs, we played board games on the reg, we never knew what to have for dinner.
I thought moving away would be difficult, I would be 3,000 miles away from what I’ve known my entire life. It felt like I was abandoning my Mom, dad, grandparents, and friends; leaving them in the dust. But my Mom never held me back from my dreams. She was my number one fan and always let me know that.
Oregon State University is over ten times the size of Mercyhurst. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but my first trip to campus was overwhelming. So many brick buildings, so many people walking around on tours. I thought I’d never be able to figure it all out.
My new roommate gave me and my Mom a mini-tour of OSU. I was worried about the size of it all and shared these feelings with my Mom. She reminded me that I’ve never backed down from a challenge. She always told me I could do anything, even move across the country and go to grad school in Oregon.
The one thing I never could have imagined was getting through all of it without my Mom. On February 7, 2018, I got a call from my aunt. I never get calls from my aunt. We aren’t that close. Something was wrong. Something that couldn’t be fixed.
My Mom thought she was having a panic attack, something we both have endured before, and going to the Emergency Room always seemed silly and burdensome to us. In reality, she was suffering from a pulmonary embolism, which we did not discover until after the fact. My aunt had called an ambulance and taken my Mom to the hospital, but by the time the doctors figured out what was going on, it was too late.
I’ve had to continue on my journey without my Mom to cheer me on and tell me I can do anything. The main thing I have struggled with is where to call home now that I don’t have the person I always associated that four-letter word with. What or where is home without her?
I’ve created a new sense of home in Corvallis. When I go to Ohio to visit my family, I am not going home, I am going to Cleveland. I live in a house in Southtown Corvallis with my best friend, her dog, and my cat. I like referring to us as “The New Nuclear Family.” Being able to call ourselves family makes me feel more of a semblance of that idea of home. We bicker and laugh, watch our favorite Disney movies, and figure out what to make for dinner together.
The block we live on in Southtown Corvallis is cute and welcoming. All of the houses are so unique to match the residents inside. When we go on walks with the dog, we are always greeted by neighbors. We stop and chat with the members of our community and learn their names. We’ve learned that there are five women named Judy on our block. One of our neighbors taught us the best way to get to the park. We were able to grab apples, plums, and figs off the trees when they were in season. The cats of the streets have come to know us, and we have learned where the dogs that tend to escape live. On Halloween, we handed out candy and chatted with our neighbors. The glow from the winter lights on the house across the street shine into our living room. This all may seem a bit boring or mundane to someone else, but for me it’s made all the difference. With the hectic environment of graduate school, it’s comforting to be able to go to a place that I can call home.
Through it all, I’m always thinking of my Mom. She was home to me and it has been difficult to rebuild that concept without her. Yet, I am never without her. I carry the memory of her with me and everyone I meet is also meeting her. She is in my humor and wit, my laugh, my smile, my tendency to be stubborn (who said I’m stubborn?), my customer service voice, and in my sorrow. She was with me through it all and will continue to be with me as I create friendships and continue to rebuild my sense of home.