Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thomas Wolfe Was Right: "You Can't Go Home Again!"

When I say "Thomas Wolfe was right," I am talking about his book "You Can't Go Home Again."  And like I said, he was right.  You can't.

I recently attended my 50th High School Reunion.  I currently live thousands of miles away from where I grew up and went to school, so I had never gone to any reunion before this one, but I felt 50 years was a milestone, and since I was friends with several classmates on Facebook, I wanted to see them in the flesh.  It was a wonderful gathering.

Why do we go to reunions? 

Widows and widowers may go to reunite with young loves; successful adults may want to show their classmates they have made it; old folks who look young may want to flaunt it.

There are many reasons. 

I went out of curiosity: to see some Facebook friends in person after so many years, to reminisce, and to see what everyone else looked like.  Most of them look better than I do.  I always remember my mother saying when she would run into someone from her past, "I look much better than she does."  I guess that's the goal for some, but I not only went back to say hello to my fellow classmates, but also to say a last goodbye to my youth.























I met up with a classmate I hadn't seen for 45 years.  We have just recently reunited on Facebook and when we shared our memories, I have to say that she is the only person from my past who remembers things exactly the way I do.  I have had so many instances where I reminded an old friend about something and he or she didn't know what I was talking about.  Likewise, they would relate a memory and I had no recollection of it at all.  But when my friend and I shared memories, they were spot on.  It felt so good. 

Part of the reunion was a tour of our old high school.



My friend and I had a bit of fun reenacting a photo that was taken of us in our junior year for the school paper.  We were being inducted into the National Honor Society and the photographer posed us all in front of a monument to our city's biggest benefactor, a lumber baron whose name is all over town and who gave so much money that we were all given a half day off from school in his honor.  My friend and I decided to be a bit cheeky for the photo.

We were cheeky then.


And we are still cheeky now, 50 years later.


But when I allude to Thomas Wolfe, I'm not really talking about the reunion as much as I am talking about returning to the town I grew up in, a town I lived in for 18 straight years, a town that contained all of the memories of my youth, a town that in many ways represented not only my youth but the adult I turned out to be.

In addition to the High School Reunion and seeing my classmates again, I had high expectations for what I wanted to do when I got back "home," but you know how expectations are. They can never live up to themselves.

I had great plans to walk around all of my old neighborhoods with my daughter and husband, to eat at the haunts that still existed, to travel back in time and reminisce, but you know what they say about plans.

Because it had been so long since I had visited, my cousin and I decided a family reunion would be great, so it wasn't just my 50th High School Reunion that I was returning for, it was also a family reunion, so there were lots of activities and lots of people to visit, so I never made it to my favorite pizza place or enjoyed the BBQ'd pork sandwiches my Dad and I used to love or spent much time with my classmates or walked around.

Sure, I visited the two houses I grew up in but not with my daughter.  She didn't arrived until later.  I also had this idea I would stand outside of my old house and the owner would see me and invite me in.  Didn't happen and the houses looked pretty much the same, though older and more tired. My mother always told me that porch on this house was built especially for me when I was born.


When I was seven, we moved a few blocks away to this house.


After visiting the houses I lived in growing up, I went downtown where I had hung out at Walgreens and the library with my friends. 



There is no Walgreens anymore.  In fact there is no downtown. 

This is what it used to look like:



And this is what it looks like now!






The City Fathers tried many things to keep the downtown vital when people started moving to the suburbs, but neither turning the downtown into a covered mall or razing it to put in a casino worked.  In fact, they were so sure the casino would work, they razed the entire downtown in anticipation only to find out the casino was not approved, so not only was there no casino,  they were left with a big gaping hole of a space.  I can't tell you how strange it felt to see a sandy volleyball court where one of the department stores used to stand. 



And the library?  It was closed the day I was there and it was only early evening.  Whenever a library is closed at 5pm on a Thursday, you know funding is not good.



My hometown is a beach town on the banks of Lake Michigan.  Funny thing that I grew up on a beach, but was no beach bunny.  I couldn't hang out in the sun much because of my fair and freckled skin, and despite my proximity to water, I never learned to swim. 

 

I think my parents had given up by the time I came along, and I never learned the social graces my sister attained like swimming and playing tennis.  Heck, I didn't even learn to ride a two-wheeler until I was 12!

Growing up, I lived across the street from my grandparents.  My Dad was an only child and he was a dutiful son, visiting them every day after work and as they aged, fixing them their dinner.  I was tasked with reading the newspaper to my blind grandmother and taking her for walks.  We and they lived near the high school, and as I toured the high school at my reunion, I could see my grandparents' house across the campus, and remembering them, remembering that house that they built themselves and lived in all of their married lives, that I visited every day, now fallen into disrepair, I felt sad. 

I don't even want to think about the house my parents lived in at the end of their lives.  After I left home, they moved to their third and final house, a lovely house on a lovely street in one of the nicest neighborhoods. My mother's dream neighborhood.  Seeing it again was shocking. I was warned.  It was a mess.  My mother would be turning in her grave. 

Speaking of my parents and their graves, after the reunions, when we left my hometown, I and family members visited their graves.  I wanted my daughter to see where they were.  Several family members were with us, and they cleaned the grave site, but we were rushed for time and I regret that I didn't make a quiet moment alone with them to say goodbye.


Going back to a place that defined you in many ways, where you lived with your family, people who are now gone or lost to you, a place that represents your youth, going back home, is fraught with peril and dashed expectations.  Though family and friends were wonderful and welcoming, it was a mental journey I had to make on my own.

I will always have my happy memories of my youth, my family and my friends, and I did have a happy childhood and wonderful friends.  But going back home 50 years later can be a shock and reminded me of just how many years have gone by and how old I am now. But I am happy that I went and one expectation that was fulfilled was that I did say a bittersweet goodbye to my youth. 

So, Tommy.  Can I call you that?  You were right to a certain extent.

If we go back to the towns and houses where we were raised and that have so many memories attached to them with the expectation that everything will be the same, then, yes we can't go home again. Nothing will ever be the same as it was or as we remember, because our memories have a funny way of sparing us the bad bits.  When we see it all again in reality, it will no doubt not look the same and our loved ones will be gone, our friends will be older, we will be older, things will be changed.

My hometown's downtown may have been turned into a volleyball court, but, in the end, that's OK, because that's what memories are for. 

In our minds, we can always visit the houses and towns we grew up in and go home again and again.  In our minds, we can spend some time and remember happy moments and the places where we came of age, where so much happened, places where we will always be young, where our loved ones will always be and where it will always be

HOME.







 
 

 
 


 
 
 
 



 



 

Thanks for Reading!
 
See you Friday
 

for my review of


  
"Jason Bourne"
 
and 
  
The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

  
and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before  
 I Die Project."
 

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6 comments :

  1. What a true depiction of the "return"! You hit it spot on. I've been back more regularly than you, of course, but I found that last year I didn't want to go by my home - I knew it had fallen into disrepair. I chose to let it be the way it was when I lived there. It felt funny, but right. I missed seeing old friends but I'm not as disappointed about missing the reunion as I thought I would be. Thanks for the insightful article! Miss you, Rosy!

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    1. Thanks, Linda, and miss you too!

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    2. I was also remembering some really happy times over at your house too. One that keeps coming back to me is you and I lying out on the grass in your back yard and looking up at the stars and wondering what was out there and what the future would hold for us.

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  2. I remember that - and sometimes I still think about that when I can see the sky blanketed with millions of stars. The only places it works, though, is on Sanibel or in the western National Parks. I'm not ready to quit wondering what's next! Whether it's wanderlust or refusal to live an ordinary life, I don't know! But it's always just below the surface! Change is wonderful!

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    1. The stars were amazing from our balcony overlooking Lake Superior when we were there too.

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  3. Nicely done!! My brother went to Muskegon High(class of '61) where my mom (Jean Carlson) was a teacher and counselor and my dad (George Carlson) was a principal and Asst.Supt.(Personnel Director). My sister and I went to Mona Shores, where husband Steve Albery and I were in the first graduating class ('65). We have lived in a suburb of Detroit ever since we were married,in '69. My parents lived there until '93, so we had contact with Muskegon for a good number of years after graduation...but only going back for reunions (every 5 years) after that...The changes in Muskegon have been been many...some negative and many positive...with many more good plans in the making...I so enjoyed your reflections and could identify with so many of your memories...It was a great place to grow up! You write very well...Thanks much for sharing! Nancy Carlson Albery

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