Yesterday, I drove from Huntsville, my "home" for the past two years, back to Virginia, the place that always has been and always will be home. I've been homesick for Virginia a few times while I lived in Huntsville. In the spring, I miss the dogwood trees blooming. I miss the extended autumn season where it's actually cool instead of stifling hot or just cold. I dreamt about Virginia ham and Pierce's BBQ. I really missed the Blue Ridge Mountains. All of these things I have missed while I was away. During the drive, though, I began to feel homesick for the place I was in at that moment.
I went to Virginia Tech for my undergraduate degrees. I spent four years living in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains in one of the greatest communities I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. Those who went to Tech often speak with fondness of exit 118B, the exit for Blacksburg off of Interstate 81. Just up the road, off of Exit 143, is where my dad's home was for nearly twenty years. He relocated to Atlanta during my senior year of college, so you can imagine the feelings I went through as I said goodbye to that childhood home as well as my sweet little college town.
As I drove yesterday, when I saw Exit 118B, my chest tightened a little. I was alarmed at first. It was sudden and uncomfortable. I looked at the signs as the exit approached and then passed and began thinking back on all of the different times I had taken that exit. I remembered the horrible construction during my sophomore year, the terrible Thanksgiving break traffic. Freshman year, it snowed on the last day of finals, and for the first time in my life, I drove to my dad's house on icy roads. More miles passed, and there was the Ironto exit, where dad and I met up at a gas station when I needed a book for a school project that was only available at the Roanoke Barnes and Noble. The Dixie Caverns exit, where my brother-in-law's family lives, where I would go each year for some of the best food and blue grass music, and of course, to see family.
I was amazed that so many of these memories came back in startling clarity. I still knew each bend in the road well. The hidden police cars came as no surprise; I knew they'd be there. Though the homesickness came on quickly and stayed with me long after I passed Exit 143 and even after I left Interstate 81, there was a sweetness to it. Some places will always be part of our lives, whether we inhabit them, visit them frequently, or don't go back for years. The Beatles said it best in "In My Life:"
There is something to be said for the places that have helped you become who you are. For me, the Blue Ridge Mountains have been a huge part of who I am. It is where I was born, where I lived with my Dad and Stepmom, where I went to college. It is where I met some of my best friends, where I met, dated and got dumped by my college boyfriend. It's where my Granddaddy's farm is, where generations of the Coyner family are buried. It's home. And no matter what city or state I live in for the rest of my life, the Blue Ridge Mountains will always be home. Always.