It's a funny thing, to return back to your home country after a long-ish period away.
This is the third time I've done so.
The first, after twelve months in Scotland, saw us turn up to our house and see a neighbour's kid, Amanda, riding past on her bike. Her, "Hello there! So you're finally baaack!" took us all by surprise at how broad and exaggerated her Strine accent seemed. This was even more baffling when we then realised that she came from a wealthy, private-schooled family who all spoke in far posher and plummier tones than we did.
At thirteen, the first impressions when driving from Adelaide airport to Murray Bridge was not only that the sky resembled the faded blue of the ancient 1950s coloured films we sometimes had to watch in the Activity Room at primary school, but that it was was enormous. Same too for the width of the roads - plenty of space for trucks, cars, buses, pedestrians, tractors dragging harvesters to the next paddock and footpaths. The endless yellowy-brown of the landscape with the rising dust seemingly making a big contribution to the dimming down of the blue sky. Kids who hadn't become Punks, Mods, Poseurs, Rockers or Skinheads.
In my early twenties, I returned home a second time after two years (and two stone fatter) away. Working, travelling and socialising: the ultimate goals of the two year UK Working Visa-holder. At the airport, my family and friends were there to greet me, all politely ignoring the inescapable sight of my bulk that I'd tragically tried to disguise in a black leather bikie jacket, long permed hair and (I blush to recall this), smeared in fake tan. It is with no small amount of relief that I neglected not to scan the photos of that unfortunate era to show you.
At twenty four, the impressions that hit me were that people celebrated and socialised in their homes and not at the closest pub. Houses were large and clean enough to have other human beings over to share in food, conversation and wine. No longer seeing black slime in my tissue after a day spent travelling on the tube. Wine, not a pint (or four) of cider; washed down with groovy salads, affordable meats and funky bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil.
I have Love Chunks to thank for luring me out of the fish-n-chips-straight-after-the-pub lifestyle and back onto the tennis court and reaching for a bottle instead of the marked down cask of Fruity Lexia. I have my parents to thank for helping me settle back into life as a student and for providing a home base when the city got too much and a Murray Bridge moment was required; and I have friends to thank for still wanting to see me after boring them with my stories on how London was (and is) the most exciting place in the world.
Thirdly, today. Or last month to be precise. Eighteen months since leaving Australia for Switzerland, forty four years old with the three visible age spots on my face to prove it. Endured a hellish journey home but the following morning woke up to a lovely sunny Melbourne day and found that the smells were the first things to notice.
Shops, for instance. The empty coke-can coolness of air conditioning as opposed to ancient fans and sweaty, non-deodorised armpits ala Genevoise. Aromas of meat pies wafting from doorways instead of slightly burned croissants. Blokes sitting at park benches drinking iced coffees when they downed tools instead of a cigarette and espresso on tiny chairs at cafes. Gum trees and warm bitumen. Spicy stir fries, fresh strawberries and cake!
Being able to converse with everyone and be instantly understood without the requirement of bad charades or the 'thumbs up' sign. Seeing my daughter occasionally mistaken for someone English and my husband confirm that Australia does indeed have the best coffee in the world. Said whilst eating his fourth pasty of the trip.
Hearing the screeching cacophony of the rainbow lorikeets, galahs and cockatoos as they made their way back to the reserve next to my parents' place, all eager to share their news of the day. The proud 'bardle oodle argle' of the magpies who decided which of the New Holland Honey Eaters could share their bird bath and when. The childlike screech of the neighbour's cat when defending their self-appointed boundary. The 'thonk' of cricket ball against bat during the many games played over picnic lunches in the park. Fireworks overtaking even the hoons on New Years' Eve.
Seeing dogs run past with their owners whilst aching to see and pat my own. Playing endless games of Rummy-O with Mum and Dad, and being thrashed every single time. Watching Sapphire laugh unselfconsciously as she spent an entire afternoon in our friends' pool filling up water balloons.
Posing for underwater photographs with my very best friend, still in awe of her resilience, intelligence and humour. Catching up with friends I'd gladly offer a spare room to any and every time they needed one. Hearing Dad say that Mum's garden was by far the most beautiful in the street. Feeling a pang of sadness when Milly's doghouse, made by Dad, was no longer in their back yard.
Dad's raspy whiskers, enjoyed during a hug. The milky sweet smell of Nivea on my Mum's soft face. Seeing my nephew throw back his head and laugh like an unoiled door; the other grinning wider than the Joker. My brother, still refusing to accept that yes, he too was as unstoppable and noisy as his sons; and his wife for her calm kindness amongst the chaotic creations of home made gingerbread houses.
Sapphire cried when she farewelled her grandparents, friends and cousins as we hugged on my parents' front lawn. Surprisingly, my eyes remained dry, caught in a bind of confusion: sentimentality and hope, recharged and ready to go back. Connections renewed and deeply appreciated. A wish to thank my family for an upbringing that was safe and encouraging and magical for being so and to thank them again for their continued interest and support and love.
When we finally walked through the door to our un-renovated 1970 apartment after collecting Milly, tears started to form. "It feels like home because you're back with us," I whispered into her neck, "But there'll be many more opportunities to return to our other home too."
Not so for her, which is why I cried.