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1976 was the last time I had been to my father's childhood home in Webb City, Mo. 
Every summer, EVERY summer, we drove there to spend a few weeks with my grandmother, my dad's mother.

We never went back after that, because my grandmother was moved into a retirement, then nursing, home across state. My dad went to visit, but not my mom and I. It was a sad time, because I was just beginning to get to know a cousin who is close in age, and my grandmother and I were slowly starting to interact on a higher level ... not little bratty kid to reserved adult. 

In 1990 or 1991, I headed down toward Webb City, and Joplin, with the intent of poring over old newspapers to find out more about that side of my family. Never made it that far. Stopped in St. Louis to visit a really good friend from junior high, then instead of continuing south, I headed back to Grand Rapids.

Chickened out, I guess. Afraid of spending all those hours searching newspapers and coming up with nothing. Silly. I could have at least enjoyed revisiting all of our old haunts.

So finally, 33 years later, I'm back.

It's surreal. Didn't know the area that well, but was able to feel my way around. You know how that is ... you remember certain places, landmarks ... you get there.

Our first destination was grandmother's house, so we headed up the main drag through Joplin. As we start driving up an overpass, I realize our favorite restaurant is probably hidden along one side. I looked back on our way down, and by golly there it was! But it was all boarded up. My cousin said it's been closed for ten years. But it's still standing!

On to my grandmother's house.
Freak me out: The people who bought the house from my grandmother, still own the house! They had been her next door neighbors. When they bought the house, I was told they would probably turn the house into a duplex, destroying a beautiful old Victorian with tons of charm. No, they moved in. The wife answered the door, remembered me ... shock ... really? ... and gave us a tour. They did change the house. Took out walls, updated the once classic period kitchen. The house seemed incredibly smaller than I remember. All of it. Every room seemed smaller. The furniture bigger ... and probably is bigger than the Victorian furniture my grandmother had. A beautiful sunroom was turned into the grandkids' playroom with heavy curtains keeping out the natural light. They covered up the home's exterior wooden lapsiding with blue aluminum siding. Yeeuk. The exterior had been painted white with dark green trim.

O.K., enough whining about what they did to the house. They took care of it the best way they knew how. And they still live there. AND they selflessly opened their door to let us in and give a tour.

It floors me how much smaller the house is than I remember. I was 11 years old in 1976. It's not like I was a little kid.

The next couple of days, we went from old haunt to old haunt. We went to the cemetery where my great-grandfather and great-grandmother are buried alongside their son who died less than a year old. My grandmother and her second husband are buried there, too. This is the first time I've been to my grandmother's grave site. You can't help but feel some sort of connection.

We also spent time at the Joplin Public Library doing some of that research I wanted to do almost two decades ago. Found some business articles on my great-grandfather. Wish they were in electronic form. The library's copy machine is terrible. I have some bad copies that are difficult to read. What I researched may be redundant, because my cousin has spent years researching our family. She's close to putting it all together in book form.

It was neat stepping back in time, revisiting a place for which my heart beats fast.

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December 2011