The writers’ conference I attended a week ago met in Gilbert, Arizona, in the Phoenix metro. I was born in the bordering city of Mesa and lived there until I was nearly 12. After my family moved north into Navajo country, we continued to visit Mesa several times a year to see grandparents and other relatives and to take care of the kind of business we couldn’t do in Navajo County.

My two remaining uncles, my dad’s younger brothers, and my husband’s one aunt, his mother’s sister, all live within 12 miles of the conference center. Seeing family again became a fringe benefit of attending this particular conference. It’s a bonus gift I will always treasure.

My Uncle Gary still lives with his wife, Aunt Lynn, in the home I remember from girlhood. Neither of them is in excellent health, but–considering they’re in their late 80s–they’re doing rather well.

Uncle Harold, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, may be doing even better. He lives in a home he bought a few years ago, on the east side of the Valley of the Sun, drives his own car, and does most of his own cooking. Although he’s outlived two wives, he doesn’t lack for female companionship. He’s dating a widow named Rita. I remember her from the first time they dated, decades ago, before he met the “cute blonde” (his words) who became his first wife.

My husband’s Aunt Geniel, who is also 90, isn’t doing as well–at least, not lately. A couple of weeks before our arrival, she fell and broke her shoulder. It’s irreparable, but Geniel has an amazing pain threshold and says it doesn’t bother her much. It does bother the rest of her body, which is reacting to the stress of the physical insult even though it does not register as pain, rising blood pressure being the most obvious sign. We spent some time with his cousin, Donalyn, and visited Aunt Geniel in a rehab hospital, where Donalyn did her mother’s hair and Geniel shared stories about her family and girlhood. Despite the injury, she was in good spirits, and we enjoyed our time with her.

What a pleasure to see these wonderful people again! We don’t know if we will have the chance in the future. It’s a long way from northern California to the Valley of the Sun, and–although each person born comes with a lifetime guarantee–there’s no guarantee as to how long that will last. We felt privileged to visit them this time. Call it a fringe benefit.

As an added benefit, I took my spouse on a tour down memory lane, visiting the homes where I lived as a child. At the second home, the place where we lived for a couple of years before moving north, the owner came out, saw us parked at the curb, and invited us in to tour the place. Everything has changed over the decades, but it’s still much as I remember it, some of the major features left exactly as they were. We also saw schools I attended, parks where I played with friends, and a church building, now a school, where my family worshipped.

“You can never go home again.” So said Thomas Wolfe and the man got it right. It wasn’t home and hasn’t been for a long time. Both my grandparents’ homes, side by side, were long ago knocked down. A large church building stands where their homes once stood. My old church has become a private elementary school and my other schools have changed so much I recognized them only by their locations. Still, I felt the nostalgia of seeing it all again and remembering, just one more side benefit of showing up at last weekend’s writers’ conference. Thanks again, ANWA.