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As it turns out, you can go home again

By Robin Davis, Special to CNN
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Mon August 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newspaper writer Robin Davis left Ohio for California to chase her dreams
  • On visits home to her dying father, she realized she wanted to move back
  • The move proved more difficult -- and more rewarding -- than she anticipated
  • Where is home for you and where do you want to return to visit or stay? Share via iReport.

Editor's note: CNN.com's "Going Home" series explores the notion of returning to our hometowns as adults, whether it's to visit, to take the rest of our childhood things as our parents sell their home or to return to live. Once the childhood home is gone, is it even possible? Read Part Two and Part Three.

(CNN) -- I remember the exact moment when I first thought I could move back to Ohio from California. It hit me on a hot August morning on a visit to my sister in Columbus, as I walked to a local coffee shop.

"You could live here."

The thought was so foreign it caused a physical response. I stopped and shook my head, as though an errant bird had plowed into me.

"No, I could not," I said firmly to whatever voice had popped into my psyche.

I could not possibly choose to live in a city that's nickname was -- somewhat unrighteously -- "cowtown" over San Francisco, the city by the bay, the city where people leave their hearts, sing the blues and honeymoon, drinking Champagne and lime.

I could not.

And yet, here I was, stopped on the sidewalk in the blistering morning sun, trying to decide if the next step I took was toward something hopeful and necessary or a step away from everything I believed was important to my life.

This visit to Columbus was just my latest over the past 18 months. I had started flying into Ohio's capital city from where I lived in San Francisco because it was cheaper than flying into Dayton, my true hometown, some 75 miles to the west, where my father lie battling pancreatic cancer.

Ours had been a complicated relationship, distant and wary. But in his final months, the past didn't matter. I understood -- finally -- that I wanted to be a daughter who sat by his side as often as I could until the very end because that's who I was, not because I thought it would make him the kind of father I wanted him to be.

After he died, everything shifted. San Francisco, where I had lived for the past six years working as a food writer and restaurant critic, no longer felt like home.

Wednesday's story: Can you vacation in your hometown?

How was that possible? The job, the life, the city itself represented everything I had dreamed of from the moment I had shut the door on my family and Ohio more than a decade before to first move to California. I had flittered all over the Golden State before finally landing in San Francisco, a city that quickly enchanted me with its fog and food.

And yet now, in these months since my father's death, I felt empty and lost. The city didn't seem to sparkle as brightly; my job no longer offered the glow of accomplishment it once had.

I continued to make pilgrimages to the Midwest, longing for closeness to my sister who was starting to build her family and to a life that I somehow believed would be simpler than the one I was living on the West Coast.

Isn't that what so many of us are looking for when we consider moving home: an ease to living without complications, a time from our childhood when our concerns were no bigger than the towering soft serve ice cream cones we tried to balance while riding our bikes?

So I stood now on Grandview Avenue, with the aroma of coffee beckoning me to move forward, and a voice in my head telling me I should stay.

I could, of course, live here. I could quit my job with the Chronicle, pack up my studio apartment and drive to Columbus. I could find a job writing or cooking or something. And I could settle into what I imagined would be a quiet existence.

Because that's what it would be if I moved to Columbus, right? Just a simple life in my hometown state with the pop-up thunderstorms and fireflies of summer followed by college football games and Christmas with snow.

I believed Ohio would not include traffic or crazy housing prices. I had myself convinced that the endless search for the next best restaurant or food trend would cease, too, because I would be finished with the food writing part of my career. And the snob I had become said I would be through with drama of relationships because there couldn't possibly be anyone that could hold my interest or steal my heart in central Ohio.

It all sounded so appealing, in those early weeks of grief after losing my second parent (my mother had died years before).

I took the plunge: I did quit my job and move to Columbus a few months after that summer morning.

But aside from the fireflies and football and snow, none of it turned out as I envisioned.

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The traffic here can be brutal, and the housing prices in the past 10 years have fluctuated wildly. I'm still chasing stories, mostly about food, just now at the Columbus Dispatch.

My desire to be close to family actually included making one of my own. I married a widower with three young children -- because my heart was stolen by not one person but by four. Very few things about motherhood in general are simple or quiet and, I could argue, that's doubly true with stepmotherhood.

Some might say -- and I do -- that the voice I heard on the sidewalk on that day wasn't my own internal longing, but was capital "g" God calling me to a new life.

I wasn't called away. And I didn't run away. The middle of Ohio didn't turn out to be my escape, but it was the beginning of a new kind of life. Not one of tranquility -- in fact often the opposite -- but one that forces me to focus outward toward my family and my faith, not inward on my own fears and thoughts of self-importance.

Robin Davis is a food writer for the Columbus Dispatch and the author of "Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom's Story of Finding Faith, Following Love and Feeding a Family."

Where is home for you and where do you want to return to visit or stay? Please share in the comments below and participate in our iReport assignment.

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