Every year since we were first engaged, my husband and I have returned to his home town at least once. Our visit a few weeks ago was the first time there was no family member to greet us and no family home to stay in. Since my mother-in-law’s death last year and our final visit to her house to help clean out the accumulations of decades, the old home has been sold. Instead of an upstairs bedroom with a shared bathroom in a home within walking distance from everything we might want to do and everyone we might want to see, we stayed in a tidy suite at a Wyndham just beyond the bypass that skirts the town. We did a lot of driving instead of walking.
The young couple that had bought the old home invited us to come and see how they had updated it. They had done wonders. The narrow kitchen with its yellow formica counters and linoleum floor, where we had sat around the small table to dye eggs for many an Easter, was now a dining room and pantry. The downstairs guest room, where I had slept chastely on visits to the home before our marriage, had been transformed into a master bathroom. The dining room where three generations had gathered for Thankgiving and Christmas dinners was now a chef’s kitchen with gleaming stainless steel appliances and a granite island for informal eating. We ooh’ed and aah’ed and approved and told the new owner stories about how the house was built. We had a fine time, but we won’t be going back. It’s their home now.
We went for breakfast to Dunlap’s, where we always had gone with my in-laws us because of the hearty portions and old-fashioned atmosphere. We ordered eggs, wheat toast, home fries, coffee, and a fruit cup. The eggs were perfectly fried. The bread was only “wheat” in that it was a shade darker than “white”, but had none of the flavor or texture that we West Coast folks had come to expect. The “home fries” were really hash browns, shredded, flavorless, and only browned in spots. The coffee was tasteless. The fruit cup was dumped from a can of fruit cocktail. We won’t be going back.
The next day for breakfast we tried Café St. Amand , a new French restaurant that advertised crepes and croissants. I had a fresh-made crepe wrapped around fresh strawberries and blueberries and fresh whipped crème. My husband had French toast made with brioche bread sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon. It all tasted great including the French roast coffee, and it actually cost less than Dunlaps. . It wasn’t small-town home cooking. We loved it, and went there again the next morning.
For dinner we went to the historic Dobbin House restaurant where we had celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. It had always been the best restaurant in town, despite the waitresses dressed in period costume and the pretentious menu (e.g., describing the bread basket: A basket of afforted colonial breads paffed to your table fresh from our own bakery, served up with a galipot of butter.)
The food arrived: a plateful of salad, enough for a meal in itself. Then the entrée – a large seriving of meat, heaps of vegetables, and a large baked potato with assorted trimmings to choose from. I felt as though I was at an athlete’s training table. That’s not the way we eat anymore.
The next day we met a friend from the local college. “You should try the new Gettysburg Baking Company,” he told us. “They bake their own bread, even sourdough, and they have really good sandwiches. It’s right on the square, where the Visitor’s Bureau used to be. Too bad the new restaurant out at the Country Club is closed on Sunday. A guy from Philadelphia took over the clubhouse as a restaurant. It’s really good – expensive, but they also serve tapas – small plates. You can make a meal of appetizers.”
We were amazed – a gourmet bakery and a tapas bar? Not the place my husband grew up in!
We did a lot of driving around the beautiful countryside. The lawns were green, the trees were just beginning to turn red and golden. We did some hiking on familiar paths. But we returned to a hotel, and no one to share our adventures.
The town and house where you grow up are like molds that help form you into the person you become. But there are reasons you can’t go home again. You change. And so does the mold.