Home is where there is a Barnes & Noble

This bookstore taught me how to feel at home and how to create a new one

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Jacqueline Kester is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

Three years ago, I stepped off a Northline bus into the cold February air so foreign to me as a California native. Having just come back from winter break and now a few weeks into my second semester, I had a newfound determination to shake the homesickness that had plagued the beginning of my college experience. But that nostalgic pain struck once again as I shifted my scarf and imagined how only a few weeks ago I had sat in the sand with the sun shining down on me.  

I had come to Barrack’s Road with no more intent than grabbing a burrito, but soon decided to do a little exploring, since it was about time I ventured farther than Chipotle. I walked clumsily across the pavement, trying not to slip on small patches of ice as I went. I quietly kicked myself for previously declaring that I wanted to move somewhere I could “experience more than one season.” I passed a large grocery store, a boutique or two and a few other staples of the suburban shopping center until I stumbled across a more heartwarming sight — a Barnes & Noble.

There was an instant comfort in the familiar setup — there was the small café, humming with the sounds and smells of coffee, where an older gentleman perused his newspaper under the classic mural of 19th- and 20th-century authors. In the children’s corner sat a young girl reading with her mother beneath the alcove where Winnie the Pooh and friends danced upon the walls. I felt at ease among the dark wooden bookshelves and the forest green carpet. A new, more soothing nostalgia washed over me. 

I could have been anywhere. I could have been at home. 

Besides a few minor details, there was little difference between the store in my hometown and the one here in Charlottesville. Say what you will about corporate America, and granted, I doubt anybody gets this relief from walking into a McDonald’s or another chain, but the familiarity a chain brings can give the illusion of being at home even when 3,000 miles away from it. 

I walked through the store and began looking at the books, remembering that in all of those pages I had the power to travel wherever I wanted. Just walking around and seeing the books made me feel at home, but I could also pick one up and go to Spain with Hemingway or East Egg with Fitzgerald. I no longer felt cooped up and confined to the dorms or even Charlottesville. It was one big airport with endless flights and for the hour I spent there that day, I felt a little relief.

Barnes & Noble had an escapist power, but I realized I could not delude myself for four years and indulge my homesickness for that long. It was like picking at a scab and still expecting it to heal. The comfort was only temporary and I would walk away each time feeling that I was still missing something. This was not my home in California and it never would be — but that was okay.

Home is not singular. It is not one roof or even one town, and it is also not a zero sum game. Creating a new home in Charlottesville did not mean I was giving up my roots on the West Coast.

I could seek comfort in small joys and old routines along the way, but I also had to make room for new places, new people and new experiences.

So now, two and a half years later, I don’t always go to that bookstore.  I walk a few doors down and stop at a local Charlottesville café. If I want a good read, I go to the used bookstore on the Corner. Maybe one day I will step into a similar place and reminisce about my college days. Maybe one day I will be in a big, new city and look for Charlottesville the way I used to look for California.

Jacqueline Kester is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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