Every once in a while, I have to go home. Usually it’s this time of year that I make the long trek back to where I believe it all began.
The house my father built is still there, but my family doesn’t own it anymore. The town has changed so much I hardly recognize it. But I think it is good to go home and remember.
I spent from the age of 13 to 22 living on Hebgen Lake just outside of West Yellowstone. Those were formative years that I believe changed my life. I’m not sure I would be a writer if I hadn’t lived in that unique place and time. It was back when West (as we call it) had no high school. We were bused 130 miles a day to a school in Ashton, Idaho. We had to go over two mountain passes, but always had a wonderful view the Tetons before we reached school.
My senior year the temperature plummeted to 50 below zero. The snow was a wall around town, around any highway out. Back then we weren’t allowed to wear pants to school so we wore jeans under our dresses. I remember scraping on the inch-thick ice on the windows INSIDE the bus on the way to school. We got around in town on snowmobiles and had a race out at our lake house. That was the year the Park let our town go into Yellowstone by snowmobile for the first time – with mixed results.
It was changing times. The dumps were still open so we were still sitting in the dark waiting to see bears to the smell of garbage in the summers. The dump was also where we teens “parked.” West closed up in the winter in those days with only a few places open. We jumped off house roofs into the drifts and took tubes out to the dump to sled down the hill in the dark and drink a little beer. We held onto car bumpers and slid down the main streets for fun and crossed out fingers that the wind would come up and blow in the highway so we wouldn’t have to go to school the next day.
While so much has changed since those days, the air at the lake smells exactly the same. The places where we had keggers and drank beer around a big campfire are still there. Standing under the pines has that same feel, just as looking at the mountains. The scarp where the 1959 earthquake left a scar on the mountains across from our house is barely visible but I can still see it. A few of the kids I went to school with are still around, although we’re all older, which comes as a surprise since I remember us young.
I like to go home every once in a while and remember. They’re good memories. And in my mind, the place is exactly as I left it.
Where do you go when you want to go home again?