I've been visiting in my hometown of Geneva, New York for eight days now. There's a curious dichotomy of familiarity and strangeness that invariably comes with being in the city where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Not much has changed in my hometown—or rather not as much as one would expect in the past 24 years. Of course I've been back annually in those 24 years since my parents still live here, but in the area where I live now, a whole lot can change in the course of a year. I can't even imagine the number of retail stores, restaurants, and subdivisions that have gone up in Blount Co., Tennessee in the past year. Here in Geneva, I've noticed but one building (Pudgies Pizza) bulldozed down and a Tim Horton's has gone up across the street from Dunkin' Donuts. I think I counted three new houses on a little cul de sac on Snell Road. That's about it.
Seneca Lake looks the same as always. There are the familiar sails of a regatta on weekend mornings (or "ricotta," as Duncan says) down by the Yacht Club. The hum of weekend boaters and the small lapping of the waves on the beach. Voices calling out from docks to houses. In town, Main Street looks just as it did when I walked on it three decades ago, tossing newspapers onto front porches with Lisa. The Baltimore-style row houses still look sharp and historic; the lady-of-the-fountain still gushes water on Park Place. Nothing's changed at the colleges—Hobart and William Smith—except maybe a new sign or two.
I visited my friend Lisa a few days ago. She's recuperating from major surgery at her parents' house. I haven't been in their house since high school, but nothing has changed even there. Even my friends look mostly the same: Robin and Michelle are still beautiful, Lisa still wears her golf shirt tucked into her golf shorts. I'd recognize them anywhere. Lisa teaches at our old high school; Michelle works as a secretary in the school system. Robin has moved to a neighboring town, but she still comes to Geneva regularly.
But with all these familiar things, I can't shake the feeling of being a stranger in my hometown. My friends mention people and I search for the memory of a face. I can't help but feeling now and then, erroneously, I know, that lives have stood still for those who have remained here. I know that is a completely false perception, but it adds to the strangeness of coming back to my hometown.
One of the oddest feelings is being at a supermarket and wondering if I know that man I just passed—if I went to high school with the woman in the snack-food aisle. I tend to pass over middle-aged people at first and then realize: Wait! They are my age! Again, that feeling of time standing still clouds reality.
Dr. H. always says my New York accent comes back for a brief appearance after a trip to my hometown. I started hearing the upstate nasal twang about 15 years ago: the incomplete "r's" and the harsh vowels. Upstaters are way toned-down from downstaters, but there is something there, for sure, something fast and a little hard. I am missing the gentle cadence of the south.
We have just over two full days left here before we head back to Tennessee. The next time I come back to Geneva, I'll be a full-fledged visitor, assuming that my parents will have sold their house here by then. I'm ready for that, I think. I'm so far from the girl I was when I lived here that I can't even conjure up more than ghosts of emotions.
There's no question where my home is now.