Home is walking off the plane and seeing an attendant with a wheelchair waiting for a passenger and seeing that she is smiling at you and everyone around you for no reason except that she is American and that’s what Americans do when they see human faces, they smile like they know you, and it’s such a big smile you want to laugh at the outrageousness of it but you try not to because you think if you do you might cry instead.
Home is Gita waiting at the curb with her Prius full of empty strawberry crates she used to make hundreds of popsicles for her new business earlier that week and even though the car looks full to the gills she fits you and your daughter and your three suitcases and doesn’t even have to leave the crates on the sidewalk even though she said would if she had to.
Home is getting driven through St. Paul on a glorious summer afternoon and finding it all as neat and lovely as you remembered and then turning onto your own street and finding you can hardly breathe, it’s so beautiful it takes your breath away and your eyes are clouded with tears because you realize how lucky you are to live here.
Home is walking into your house and finding that your renters have left you peaches on the counter and milk in the fridge and unopened coffee by the stove and new pillows still in their bags on every bed and fresh flowers on the kitchen and dining room tables and realizing that some of the flowers came from your own yard and it had never occurred to you to pick them before.
Home is dinner with your next-door neighbors the first night you’re home and dinner with your other next-door neighbors the next.
Home is going to see the Fourth of July fireworks from the foot of the St. Paul Cathedral and running into seven people you haven’t seen in a year and getting hugs from all of them.
Home is watching the fireworks finale over the Capitol from the steps of the Cathedral while your neighbor is nursing her baby beside you, her baby whom you had not met before because she was born while you were gone, and you can’t get over how gorgeous this baby is.
Home is sleeping in your own bed with your daughter beside you.
Home is having your dog returned to you by the generous man who cared for her all year and seeing her ears lay flat when she realizes it’s you it’s really you and that in fact you never abandoned her but only needed her to stay at that other place temporarily and now that time has ended and she can be home again.
Home is your friend Arek stopping by in the middle of his errands just to say hello at the very moment you realize you have no dog food in the house and it would be too heavy to cart home on the back of your bike and indeed, he would be glad to take you to Target.
Home is watching Gita and Jim pick the sour cherries from their tree and getting invited in that evening to enjoy a slice of the still-warm pie and being sent home with three cartons of cherries to make your own.
Home is biking to the boathouse and running into a dozen people you know who have just finished their rows and getting sweaty hugs from all of them and they apologize for being sweaty but you don’t care because they are heartfelt and genuine.
Home is rowing a double on the Mississippi with someone you missed and looking up to see nine women on the dock cheering to see you and calling out to welcome you home.
Home is baking your own pie and sharing it with friends who brought not just any ice cream but sweet cream ice cream from Grand Old Creamery.
Home is mowing the lawn with the pushmower and trimming the overgrown front hedges by hand and using the neighbor’s wheelbarrow without asking because you know it’s okay to move the mountain of clippings to the alley.
Home is climbing onto the kitchen counter and plunging the right side of the kitchen sink that never drained for the renters the whole time you were gone and feeling proud to be able to unclog your own sink without calling a plumber.
Home is carrying boxes down from the attic and unpacking old photographs and pottery plates and the original Paris glasses and putting them back on the shelves where they belong.
Home is knowing the rest of your family is on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean and though it will still be nine days until they arrive, knowing they are almost on the same continent is a blessing because they are working their way home and once they get here they will stay here for a very long time.