Home away from home

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

I’m in Chicago for my an­nual visit with fam­ily, and this year for the spe­cific pur­pose of cel­e­brat­ing my ma­ter­nal grand­mother’s 90th birth­day. I sug­gested a party and brunch for her birth­day week­end be­cause I thought it was im­por­tant to honor her and I missed the fam­ily gath­er­ings that were such a happy part of my child­hood, but I soon ap­pre­ci­ated why my fam­ily hasn’t had any func­tions in more than a decade.

There haven’t been any re­al­ity TV-level blowups or drama yet, but the party is still five days away. Most un­for­tu­nately, there’s been un­nec­es­sary angst for my grand­mother as she tries to keep her cel­e­bra­tion a min­i­mal­ist af­fair, both in terms of guest list and menu.

She’s ob­sessed with keep­ing costs down, since my cousin and I agreed to pay for cater­ing and dec­o­ra­tions (I orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned all five grand­chil­dren split­ting ex­penses, but three won’t be at­tend­ing). We’ll be din­ing on cold cut sand­wiches and chips, and miss­ing folks who I al­ways as­sumed were fam­ily be­cause they were at ev­ery hol­i­day or cel­e­bra­tion we had when I was younger.

“It’s your party, grandma, and what­ever makes you happy is what I want,” I re­cently told her while we were plan­ning over the phone. “But I don’t want you to feel like you have to pare things down be­cause you don’t want to be a bur­den to me and Lance. We’re adults, grandma.

We’ll al­ways be your lit­tle grand­sons, but I am 35 years old, and I un­der­stand the ex­penses of do­ing some­thing like this, and it’s some­thing that we want, and can, do for you,” I said, gain­ing con­ces­sions on the guest list but the menu re­mains fes­tively re­strained.

Since that con­ver­sa­tion, I’ve turned 36, and it dawns on me that I’m ap­proach­ing the day when I will have lived out­side of my home­town longer than I lived there. I left Chicago when I was 18, and re­mem­ber miss­ing the city – its hus­tle and ex­alted sky­line, its grit and chaotic streets – as much as I missed my friends and fam­ily.

My fam­ily re­mains here, and I still feel the South Side of Chicago cours­ing through my veins, cal­ci­fy­ing in my bones and shap­ing the way I un­der­stand and in­ter­act with the world. It still feels like home when I visit, both the parts of the city I en­joy and the things that keep me away, and so I’m also re­minded that I am a vis­i­tor, and will soon have been a vis­i­tor for longer than I was a res­i­dent.

I’m not re­nounc­ing my birth­place, and even if I were, there is no cure for be­ing a Chicagoan. But the city has be­come my most fre­quent va­ca­tion desti­na­tion, and a place where I’m aware that I’m away from home.

The Ge­or­gia Voice cel­e­brates some of the best parts of our home­town in this is­sue, and many of the hon­orees kin­dle my love for At­lanta. The best parts of the city for me have been grow­ing into adult­hood; the longterm friends and pil­grims who sim­ply passed through the gay mecca; the ro­mance and sex that have en­light­ened and bewil­dered me; the MARTA crushes and bump­ing into your MARTA driver at the club; the wimpy snow days and sit­ting un­der the ceil­ing fan in the screened-in din­ing room at Woody’s Cheeses­teaks on a hot sum­mer day.

Still, it’s an un­easy part of adult­hood to be with fam­ily while miss­ing home.

“I’m not re­nounc­ing my birth­place, and even if I were, there is no cure for be­ing a Chicagoan. But the city has be­come my most fre­quent va­ca­tion desti­na­tion, and a place where I’m aware that I’m away from home.”

Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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