The first time leaving home

Published 9:59 am Sunday, October 20, 2019

This past weekend, several of the new college freshmen came home for fall break.

This was a huge event in their lives, coming home for the first time since they graduated from childhood to young adulthood.

I watched at morning worship Sunday, as they shared stories of their new adventures, parents standing nearby beaming with pride. It brought back many memories of my first time leaving the nest.

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I left home for Berea College during the fall of my 17th year. I was fortunate that two of my sisters, Ruth and Amy, had gone before me and Amy was still a student there. I had some second-hand knowledge of what to expect, but experiencing it was something entirely different.

Mom and Ruth drove Amy and me to Berea on move-in day. They stood in a long line with me as we waited to find out my dorm designation. We then drove over to James Hall and carried the few items I had into my room, B-12. (B stood for basement.) I had never shared a room with just one other person before and I had never slept in a bed by myself. We sisters slept two or three to a bed my entire childhood. But, here, I had half a room all to myself. I had a bed, a desk, chair, lamp and closet that were just mine.  I couldn’t imagine being so rich.

The anticipation of meeting my roommate was almost overwhelming. What if she didn’t like me? As it turned out, she was a sweet girl from Tennessee and we got along beautifully.

After Mom helped me set up my room, we took a walk around campus and it was time for her to leave me. I remember watching as her car drove away, feeling both terrified and excited.

I had planned to wait until Thanksgiving break to return home. It just so happened that I met another student from Ironton. He was running for a class office and told me that if I voted for him, he would give me a ride home in just three weeks! You bet I voted for him! But just a few days before the weekend we were to travel, he told me he changed his mind and wouldn’t be going home after all. I was devastated. I honestly wasn’t homesick until that very moment. I had set my heart not to go home until much later but somehow the loss of the visit put me into a tailspin.

I clearly remember the phone call home to tell Mom the sad news. Those were days long before cell phones. In fact, students didn’t even have land lines in their dorm rooms. We all shared a single phone in the hallway. There was no privacy.

I remember dialing the operator and asking to make a collect call home. As soon as I heard my mom’s voice, I started crying. I didn’t know I was so homesick until that moment. I couldn’t even talk. Mom sympathized with me and told me how disappointed she was for me. I remember her saying so sincerely, “If I had the money for the Greyhound bus I would send you a ticket.” But money was always tight and she still had four other children at home to fend for.

The funny thing is that I don’t actually remember my first visit home at Thanksgiving. It was a day I’m certain I anticipated greatly, but the only memory that truly stands out is the time I thought I would go home, but then couldn’t.

Family is so very important. We were created to have strong relationships. These are the types of relationships that feel great pain when separation has to happen. These are also the types of relationships that long for reunion. That’s why my heart was pulled to the college freshmen and their parents at church this past weekend.

They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” When we’re constantly together, we seem to forget the best qualities of those we love. But not having those people at your reach, whether by temporary absence or by loss of life, causes you to long for just a moment, just a touch, or the sound of the voice.

I didn’t know how difficult adulthood could be at 17. Now, looking back, I’m glad I took the risk to branch out away from home, but I will always appreciate those who miss me as much as I miss them.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at