6 Emotions You Feel Returning to Your Hometown

For those of you who have been keeping up to date with my blog, you will know that after nearly a decade away living in two different capital cities, I have returned to my hometown, where I have now been residing for around 8 months. The music video above, by the Hilltop Hoods, was actually inspired by my real hometown of Adelaide, Australia. Yes, this is actually what it’s like! Being back in my hometown for longer than a brief holiday with a departure date, has undoubtedly evoked a whole spectrum of emotion that I didn’t expect, including sentiment, nostalgia, pride, sadness, happiness, amusement and confusion.

Some of the dominant feelings I’ve had include:

1. Feeling Like an Outsider
When you’ve been away for a long period of time living somewhere else, there can be a pervasive feeling of separation between you and those you left behind. You definitely feel a “great divide” when you catch up with your old friends and family. You still have love and respect for them all, but you feel a much stronger connection with the ones who have travelled, relocated, and met and bonded with a wide variety of people. An estrangement grows out of diversity of experience. When you go somewhere new and have to re-craft your identity, change is inevitable. When you are displaced and don’t have family and friends to rely on, you must become dependent on your true self… the person at your root and core. You are forced to dig deep and draw on your own strength, energy and faith, which is something you don’t have to do when you always remain amongst your original network of family and friends. When those parameters of identity are removed, it is terrifying, but also fascinating because it compels self-reliance and evolution. This process is the most raw, pure, and painful personal journey you can embark on.

2. Being Struck with Moments of Nostalgia
Ever since moving back to Adelaide, I keep hearing songs that I last heard on the radio before I left Adelaide nearly 10 years ago! Adelaide has always been reluctant to change, so I find it quite funny, unsurprising and nostalgic when I hear the “old-school” songs I haven’t heard since leaving Adelaide. Something else that is quite amusing and confusing is coming face to face with people I associated with “in my former life”. Some of them I remember quite well like my old high school friends. It seems so strange to catch up with my old high school pals, when I haven’t seen them in 20 years. In many ways, we simply pick up where we left off, and we all feel very comfortable talking to each other. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but notice things like how their voices have become deeper in that time, or that they sound so much more mature than what I remember. This really should come as no surprise given it’s been 20 years and most of these people are now parents … yet, I’m almost shocked to realise that they’ve grown up and aren’t those teenagers who live eternally in my memory. Then there are those people who I know I’ve associated with before, but I struggle like crazy to remember how I knew them. Was it through my job? Was it at uni? Maybe I knew them socially? Hmmm… if only I could remember. It’s just a little awkward… especially when everyone seems to remember who I am like I never left!

3. Being Shocked That Certain Things Are Still There
Nothing has changed! Sure, there might be a total of two new buildings but basically, everything is exactly as we left it 10 years ago. That Italian restaurant that my husband and I used to enjoy going to is still doing very well. We went there for our anniversary just the other week and we came face-to-face with the owners who we had known for years. They remembered us as we did them. Except it was just a little bit awkward as we mutually observed how we had all aged in a decade. Some months ago, we drove past our old house near the city, which is the first house we ever bought. The trees are slightly bigger, but nothing else has changed. On the way there, we pulled in at a petrol station, and recognised a lady with a big boofy hair do in the car next to ours. She’s the Greek lady who owned the little deli at the end of our street…it was Sylvia! My husband and I did a double take and looked straight at each other and smiled. She hadn’t changed a bit! Here she was, going about her daily rituals…just as we’d left her.

Being back in Adelaide has also made me confront my past. While there have been many happy times to look back on, there are also sad and painful times that I would rather leave behind me. There is one café on Unley Road which has changed its name and management, but nonetheless looks exactly as I remember it. My husband suggested we go there for a meal, but I rejected that suggestion as it was the last place I saw my Dad alive. I had celebrated his birthday there just before he died and even 12 years on, I can’t look at it without feeling a sense of longing and loss.

4. Being Saddened By What Isn’t There Anymore
At Christmas, I so badly wanted to take my son to see what is called “The Magic Cave”, which has always been a kids dream-come-true at Christmas. Some of the best childhood memories I have are of my visits to the Magic Cave with my family. You can go and see Santa, and then explore a magical world of giant rocking horses, distorting mirrors, lucky dips, fairy-floss and impressive silver helium balloons with Santa’s face printed on it. I assumed that it was all still there and like everything else in Adelaide, I thought it remained completely unchanged. Unfortunately I was wrong! We arrived to be told to “take a ticket” and were then sent away for a period of 2 hours while other people were sent a text message to go and see santa first. When we were ‘called back’ via text, I realised they had taken down the original Magic Cave, which was spacious and magical, and had kept only a few of the original icons like one of the giant rocking horses and a couple of the old mirrors. They squashed the new “magic cave” into a tiny space near the kids clothes wear and toys, making it more commercially appealing for the department store. What a shame!

5. Patriotism
A strange devout loyalty comes along with your hometown, even if there are some things you abhor. It is an integral part of you because it is where you grew up and spread your wings for flight. These are the streets that made you; you didn’t choose them…they chose you; like family. So as much as some things in my hometown seem backward and frustrating, like the stop start traffic and a highway that was built to only accommodate one direction of traffic at a time (crazy yes!), I will swiftly come to its defence. It’s OK for me to ‘tell it as it is’ when it comes to my hometown, but it would feel weird if my interstate friends went around bagging it. I don’t think I’d like that very much! It’s one of those situations where you can only insult the place if you’re a part of it and it’s a part of you. Otherwise, it feels wrong and unfairly judged.

6. Gratitude
You spend an evening catching up with your wider family and you laugh and bond and reminisce and share food together. You get to see them as real people with strengths and weaknesses, rather than ‘god-like’ figures whose opinions were fact, and whose values and goals were once your own. You appreciate them now in ways that you couldn’t before because now you have your own family and it makes you see things differently. You find bits and pieces of gratitude in a sea of confusion, and at the end of the day, that’s a part of why returning to your hometown can be a positive thing — seeing your wider family, your friends, and this little piece of you; the place where you grew up.