There’s a spot as I drive north on I-35 into Duluth that feels like home. It’s the spot as I summit the hill at Spirit Mountain and pass under some railroad tracks. Duluth then appears over that hill; the harbor comes into view with its bridges, grain elevators and ships, and Lake Superior spreads out in front of me so large that it looks like an ocean. Duluth proper, to my left, sprawls miles in the distance with its many hills, trees and houses dotting the horizon.
I’ve made this drive hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. And the feeling as I come under those tracks feels the same each time.
It feels like home.
When I was little, so very little, maybe even just three or four, my parents would sometimes wake me from my slumber so I would not miss the first views of Duluth as we drove into the city. Whether day, or night when Duluth was just a landscape of lights in the water’s reflection, the sight from the top of the hill leading into town meant we were home.
I’ve kept this mainly to myself as I became an adult – the passing under the tracks and over the hill and the butterflies of anticipation, and the feeling of comfort and home at the summit, because unless it is your home, you wouldn’t understand.
Sometimes when I’m with my kids I say to them “Girls, girls, get ready – in just a few minutes you’ll see Duluth!” But they don’t get it or understand. They see it because I ask them to, but they go immediately back to their books or movies or the conversation that I interrupted.
When I was a child we would all exclaim together like it was the first time we were seeing the city – not the thousandth. “There’s Enger Tower! Look, the lift bridge! Park Point! I see the church on top of the hill! Whoa, there’s a thousand-footer at the coal dock today!”
Now, I point out these sites to my children and while they might be ‘neat’ or ‘cool’ or ‘pretty’ they don’t have the same meaning for them.
This isn’t home for them.
And I’ve wondered all these many years if my brother still felt the same connection that I do with Duluth.
Until this past Easter when we visited together.
I don’t think my brother and I have shared a ride into Duluth since we were preteens and would make an imaginary line across the backseat that we could not cross for fear of a punch in the arm or a book thrown at a face. Back then, when it was just the two of us sharing the backseat for those 13 hour drives home, we would either fight or sleep, but when we came under the tracks, you would find both of us sitting near, shoulders touching as we leaned forward to enjoy the view.
So some 30 years later, I didn’t know what to expect as we climbed the last hill and were about drive under the railroad bridge. But my brother said it first “Boys, you’re about to see Duluth! The harbor and the lake are going to be right out your window in a moment!” And his boys, and my girls looked up from their books, movies and conversation, said something like “Oh” and went back to whatever they were doing.
And I smiled that he remembered. That even though this hasn’t been his home for over 40 years and he doesn’t make it back very often, that it still had a feeling of home for him too. No matter our current addresses, this is where we were both born, where our parents grew-up and where our grandparents lived and died. Even though it’s not where we raise our own kids, nor we we actually grew-up – it still has a place inside our hearts that feels like home.
Sometimes I wonder what it will be for my children. When they move away, whether across the nation or over an ocean, will they feel something when they come home to St. Paul. What will be their landmark. The 1st Bank building downtown, crossing the Mississippi river, exiting on Hamline and seeing the Super Target? None of them as romantic and picturesque as Duluth, but home doesn’t have to be beautiful or magnificent. Home can just be the feeling of seeing that tree-lined street you remember riding your bike down, as well as it can be the memory of the rocks your climbed behind your grandparent’s house when you were a kid.
So while our children cannot share our memories, feelings, or love for what I declare as my home, someday they will find their own home in their hearts with their own memories. And I’ll be a part of that – not through anything that I did or created or asked them to remember, but just through that feeling of turning the corner or climbing that hill or spotting that building that means that they’ve come home again.