Away from home but close to family

By Lillian Barkley

Technically, I’m not a townie. I didn’t live here or go to school here, but weeks of my summers and winter vacations were spent walking around campus and eating Papa Del’s.

My dad was born and raised in Urbana, eventually attending the University in the 1970s. Most of his family still lives here, including my grandma and four of my aunts and uncles, so I’ve been visiting Champaign-Urbana since I was a baby.

I always loved getting to see everyone, and I remember myself at preschool age being very upset one year when we had to drive home. My aunt comforted me and told me that everyone only gets together because my parents and I were there, and it was only a party because it was Christmas. When we left, everyone went back to jobs, school and daily routines.

Needless to say, I never saw this first-hand until I started attending classes at the University this past fall.

The weirdest moment happened when I was studying in Lincoln Hall and my cousin, who is a senior in LAS, walked past me.

We had never seen each other in anything other than a social setting, and it was the first time I had seen her since classes started.

We looked at each other like there was a glitch in The Matrix. Then she seemed to suddenly remember that I went to school here now, and we talked about how each other’s classes were going as if this was a usual occurrence.

Seeing family members going about their daily lives still happens regularly. I was shopping in Meijer the other day and ran into my uncle, who was looking for tortillas. The experience is still odd, but not any more so than it is normally seeing someone else unexpectedly.

Most of my friends moved away from their family when they went to college, including the few who came here. Not having any connections to their school forced them to socialize and get used to each new city.

I had no concerns about how living so near to my family could affect my social life. After all, my dad lived at home and still managed to meet my mother, who lived in Europa House, located at 802 W. Oregon St. in Urbana.

For the most part, I have the best of both worlds.

I still get the support system of my family with the added independence of living away from my parents. I’ve gotten involved on campus and made new friends, but skipped over the freshman confusion of learning my way around.

I also have more home-cooked meals than a typical college student.

But I didn’t escape the waves of homesickness and unfamiliarity. Even if I have family up here, it isn’t the same town where memories are embedded into each street and building.

Regardless, living so close to my family is simply means getting to see them more often. At most, I used to see them six times a year. Now I can see my aunt and uncle’s family house from my window.

Their children, my younger cousins, are 12 and eight years old, and it’s so rewarding seeing them grow up.

Rather than just seeing how much they’ve grown since I last saw them, which is the experience my dad’s family had when I was growing up, I can actually keep up with what’s happening in their lives. Sometimes, I go to their soccer games, babysit them or even help pick them up from school.

In the end, I guess my aunt was right.

Now, when my parents visit, we all get together and have a large family dinner and play Scrabble until midnight. But when they leave, my cousins and I have classes, and the rest of my family has work. The only difference is, instead of driving three hours to see everyone, I can just walk across the street.

Lillian can be reached at [email protected]