For the first few days of being back at home, there is often an eerie feeling that seems to float over everything. My brain remembers when just two or three days before the Bear was splashing with Hero Hubs in the swimming pool in our complex, and I had the window open to try to cool off the kitchen while I attended to our dinner. Suddenly after two flights, about thirty hours’ travel, and a good night’s sleep, we’re in Atlanta, in a park down the street from my brother’s house and with the gentle breeze, beautifully coloured leaves are falling rhythmically from the trees, like a gentle and steady rainfall.

My latitude and longitude sink in all over again as I stare in disbelief at the prices of children’s clothing on sale racks in Old Navy. How can this adorable t-shirt be less than four dollars? My head spins as I take my first stroll through the grocery store. The bananas are absolutely perfect. The onions are all exactly the same size. And perfect. Has it always been like this? There are a gabillion choices for coffee creamer. A gabillion. I don’t recognise all the labels at first, and I struggle to decide if something is a good price without converting back to Rand (the South African currency) in my mind.

We find our way to a South African food store for boerewors and biltong, and suddenly things are even more strange. I recognise the label on every product in the store. The cereal the Bear eats for breakfast every morning. The spices by Ina Paarman I have come to love and the packets of soup I sometimes use. There’s grapetizer in the cooler. At a South African food store on the outskirts of Atlanta I find that I feel strangely at home. And there’s not a better word than strange to describe the feeling.

It’s an 8 hour drive from Atlanta to home in Eastern North Carolina. The roads are familiar and the exit signs even more so. As we get closer to home, the signs indicate that places like Biscuitville and Cracker Barrel, and of course Bojangles, are just a wee way off the highway. The cars and SUVs boast familiar stickers, two pairs of big flip flops and two little ones, a cursive script monogram, an orange tiger paw or two. Once we get east of the Triangle, a familiar Pirate with a purple hat appears again and again as cars and SUVs pass by. {Are 9 out of 10 people driving SUVs now?}

Finally we’re past the Pirate town where I earned some important pieces of paper and learned some important life lessons at the same time. Welcome familiarities make me feel like the world is all as it should be and for the next thirty miles, the sites I’ve seen for almost three decades all seem to point in the same direction…you’re almost home.

At last we’re up the driveway and the door has slammed behind us. Everything that’s new is endearing and everything that’s the same has precious new meaning. The newspaper seems smaller and the pillows on the couch seem bigger. The TV now announces who’s calling when the phone rings.

We decorated my Dad’s Christmas tree the other morning, and enjoyed lunch together at a restaurant downtown that I’ve really missed. In the evening the Bear is cuddled up to his G.C. watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer learn to fly.

It seems like words that couldn’t be said on TV a year ago are suddenly allowed. Commercials advertise new drugs for old problems, and others advertise malpractice lawyers for the new problems caused by old drugs.

This evening my Mom’s “bridge girls” were over for dinner, and of course, to play bridge. For the most part the evening was like most others, snacks, dinner, a few rounds of cards, a slice of cake and a few cups of coffee, laughing at the wins and losses, discussing how things would’ve turned out had a different card been played. It’s a tradition that dates back, for my Mom and one of the ladies in the group, to nearly a decade before I was born.

But what made this evening extra special for me was that as each lady came in, the Bear took them by the hand, either asking them to come with him to see the Christmas tree or the piano, or just to ask to be picked up and given another hug. It suddenly seems he’s never met a stranger. We put him down for bed and were on about our business when in the kitchen, around the table, the ladies began reminiscing:

“I remember Caroline being so small!”

“And hosting little games during our bridge games and giving away prizes!”

{And my Mom chimes in} “And I never knew what she had wrapped up to give away!”

In the blink of an eye, I realise a generation has passed, and things are the same and different. Steady like an ocean, swift like a stream, life seems to just keep happening.

And even if sometimes things seem unfamiliar, and I occasionally feel like a foreigner in my hometown, this is the place where my favourite shadows are, and it’s been well put before, there’s no place like home.