Showing posts with label Memories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memories. Show all posts

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







Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday

for my review of

"Jason Bourne"
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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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Were The Good Old Days Really Good? - What I Miss (and What I Don't)!

I am starting to make plans to attend my 50th High School Reunion this summer.

I know, that's what I'm thinking too.  Geez.

As I make my plans, my mind wanders back to my past and it's very easy to sugar-coat it all.  Our minds have a way of remembering the good and forgetting the bad stuff.  It's easy to be wistful about the past, thinking things were easier then.  I guess maybe it's because for some of us things seem harder now.  We wish for The Good Old Days.

The Good Old Days.  Were they really that good?

To put things in perspective, here are some things to think about.

Would you be happier without access to the Internet?

As a librarian, I actually have a really good frame of reference for this. When I went to library school, I actually had to learn all of those reference books that no longer exist so that when someone asked me a question I would know what BOOK(S) to search.  We librarians had to do all of our searching by hand.

Every year about this time, I would get questions about stock prices from ten years ago or so because people were doing something tax related.  I had to search the "Wall Street Journal" by hand or via microfilm.  It could sometimes take hours, depending on the accuracy of the information supplied by the questioner. Today, because of the Internet it would take about 20 seconds to get that information.

So no matter what you think about the evils of the Internet, you have to admit, if you know how to distinguish good information from bad information, and you stay away from the porn, the Internet has definitely been a good thing.  I mean, think of all those old friends you've found on Facebook, those emails from your grandkids and those cute kitten videos on YouTube.

(See, you feel better now, right?)

Remember party lines?

No, I am not talking about a conga line at a party.  I am talking about cheap phone service back in the day.  If you wanted to save a bit of money, you had what was called a "party line," where you shared a phone line with several other houses. My parents needed to save money, I guess.  Though as a kid it used to be fun to sneakily pick up the phone and listen in on other people's conversations, you also might want to make a phone call and would have to wait until your neighbor's interminable conversation was over.  Imagine what that would be like today.

And speaking of phones. 

Remember when a long distance call cost a fortune?  Never mind ever calling overseas, just calling within the United States was really expensive.  My parents lived in Michigan and I lived in California.  When I was first starting out, I would call my parents "collect," meaning they would pay the charges.  I am sure that didn't help our long-distance relationship.  But even after I was paying my own way, my mother would always end a conversation with "Well, I don't want to run up your phone bill."  Click.  For some reason my mother never said "Good-bye."

What did we do without cell phones?

If I am in my car at night and realize I have forgotten my cell phone, I fantasize about all kinds of horrible things that could happen to me if my car broke down.  What would I do?  Because there certainly are no pay phones anymore. 

However, that reminds me of driving home from college one time and I had a flat tire. A man stopped to help me...and he not only didn't rape and murder me but he changed my tire!

Speaking of cars, I remember taking my car in for either a tune-up or repairs constantly.

Forty years ago I drove a little British sports car for about two years and it was either constantly needing repairs or leaving me stranded at McDonald's because it wouldn't start. 

Today I drive a 13 year old car that other than oil changes, new tires and brakes, has probably only been in the shop two or three times. The engineering on cars these days is so much better...what's a tune-up?

Did you enjoy people smoking in restaurants and on airplanes?

People used to stub their cigarette butts into their plates.  Yuck.  And on airplanes, did they really think putting smokers in the back of the plane made any difference?

Only three TV channels.

Now we all know I am a TV junkie, and it started early.  When I was little, I could actually recite the entire evening's TV line up on all three channels for every day of the week! 

Only three channels could have been a problem for me, but since I didn't know any better I didn't know what I was missing.  But today, I don't know what I would do without Bravo!

And what's with some of the styles we wore?

Here I am sporting "Bobby socks."

I don't miss some of the styles we thought were cool back then.  Of course, here I am a junior in high school and probably didn't know what cool was anyway.

All in all, we are much better off today than we were in the 1950's and '60's, which I guess would constitute my "Good Old Days.

We think bullying is new, just because it's easier to bully someone on the Internet and there are so many talk shows that highlight that.  We think there is more crime but crime is actually down.  It's just that "the news" is no longer THE NEWS, it's more like showbiz with a never-ending litany of death and destruction to make us scared to go out and scared of our neighbors.  But child abductions, rape and all of that bad stuff was all around us 50 years ago.  It's just that nobody talked about it and dwelled on it.  We live longer now and, for most of us, we make more money and live better than our parents did.

As I said, I am making plans to go back to my hometown, a place I have not lived for 50 years, to attend my high school reunion, the only reunion - high school or college - that I will ever have attended.  And I can't help but get nostalgic about the past and think about those "good old days."

It is going to be a trip down memory lane for me. 

I am going to drag Hubby to my old neighborhood and to the house I grew up in.

We are going to walk my usual route downtown from there, tour my high school, visit my parents' graves, and reconnect with my relatives who are still there and with my old school friends after 50 years.

Hubby and I are also going to drive around the coast of Michigan, retracing a trip my family took together almost 60 years ago up the coast of Western Michigan to Traverse City, Charlevoix and Mackinac Island. 

This year, though, Hubby and I are going to continue on down the Michigan's Eastern Coast, all the way around "the thumb," a part of Michigan I had never explored.  We will create some new memories.

In hindsight, as I think back on those days in Michigan, I have to admit that I had a good upbringing, an almost idyllic, middle America childhood and happy school years. 

I was not particularly popular in middle school and high school, by any means, and faced some of the usual traumas, but I had a tight circle of friends, a boyfriend, and I got to go to dances.

I had academic honors and created a niche for myself as an actress (I was voted "Best Actress" my senior year).

For me, those were "The Good Old Days," though at the time I didn't appreciate them and just wanted to get the hell out of town and on with my life.

So as I think about the reunion, I can't help but cast my mind back to those days, especially now that I am retired, live far away from where I was brought up and feeling some of the loss that comes with retirement, an empty nest and getting older.  I have happy memories of my growing up years and my school years.

So there are things I DO miss about those Good Old Days.

Soda fountains.

Whatever happened to the old soda fountain?  Every drug store and dime store had one when I was growing up.  In my town THE meeting place for my friends and I - the Walgreens soda fountain.  Cherry coke anyone? 

Where do kids go today to stay out of trouble and hang out?

Only 3 TV channels.

I know I mentioned it earlier as one of the things I didn't miss about "The Good Old Days," but in contrast to the hundreds of channels we have today, maybe having only three would be better.  I mean, these days, how can we possibly decide what to watch?  And even with so many channels, is there really much on that is worth watching?

Remember Bruce Springsteen's song "57 Channels (and nothin' on)? 

Now we have way more than 57 channels and there is still "nothin' on," so I could do with fewer channels, except one of them would have to be Bravo!

The News was really THE NEWS

Families used to gather together to watch the Six O'clock News and we  believed what Walter Cronkite told us.  News coverage was less biased and more serious.  During the Vietnam War, the network showed actual war footage. I had a husband over there and I used to be afraid I would be watching the news and see him get killed right before my eyes, it was that real.  Reporters would report from the frontlines and every day the number of casualties would be reported. Today we have pretty boys and airhead women talking about things they know nothing about and even though it seems like we are always at war, we hear little about the casualties and destruction.

Vinyl records

Going to the record store to buy the latest Beatles or Rolling Stones record was an event.  Music stores even had listening rooms so you could listen to the record before buying it.  How civilized that was.  And it was fun to read the liner notes.  It was bad enough when CDs came along because there were no liner notes to read, but the way we get our music today not only deprives us of all of those extras we used to get with a record album, but we are deprived of the actual sound.  Just ask Neil Young.

Taking a picture with a camera, developing the film and having a picture you can hold in your hand, frame or put in an album.

It's a bit hard to put together a photo album with pictures from my cell phone. I am glad I have all of these old pictures that my Dad took.


Both men and women wore hats.  Oh, I know we wear hats today, but not like they did when I was growing up.  My Dad always wore a hat to work, to church, on outings.  And my mother had quite the collection.  My Dad must have liked seeing her in hats, because he bought her most of them.

Those are small things that I think about when I think about the past, but if I am being really honest, I don't really miss "the good old days" in that sense.  I try to live in the present and look forward.

If I were to miss "The Good Old Days," it would be missing my loved ones and friends who are gone.

It would be missing being young with my whole life ahead of me. 

(However, if I could I would like to give my younger self some much needed advice).

But that ship has sailed.  It's not about the past.  It's about what is yet to come.  It's about looking forward.

I am looking forward to my 50th High School Reunion. 

I can reminisce with my old friends about "The Good Old Days," with the knowledge that we are fortunate to have made it this far with those days behind us and the future ahead.

So here's to making some more "Good Old Days" to remember 50 years from now!

What about you?
Do you miss anything about

"The Good Old Days?"

Thanks for Reading!

See you Friday
for my review of the new movie


"The Big Short"



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."

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to copy and paste or click on the share buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, email it to your friends and LIKE me on Facebook at