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Sunday, January 9, 2022

Thoughts of Home

 
The novel entitled "You Can't Go Home Again" was published in 1940. It came from the unpublished work of Thomas Wolfe and was stitched together by his editor to make it presentable. I'll admit that I've never read it, but I've certainly heard the title as a saying over the the years. I've also felt in my person the reality of that statement. 

In 2013, after several years away from the farm in northeast Missouri where I'd been raised, I returned for a visit. I was getting ready for what I believed would be a permanent move to Brazil, and so this time in Knox County felt particularly significant to me. What I found surprised me.

The place was, to my eyes, both the same and different from what I remembered. Having lived in Brazil and then later in New Jersey, working in Manhattan, I think I'd become conditioned to seeing more people. The area where I grew up seemed somehow more remote, and so sparsely populated as to be practically vacant.

In reality, not a lot had changed there. Yes, the population has continued its gradual decline, but not really by that much since I'd graduated from high school in the mid-1990s. Many moved away each year as they too graduated, but others remained and carried on the business of life. It caught me off guard when I heard my uncle mentioned a couple of my friends from high school in passing, not thinking that I knew them. It'd never occurred to me that he would ever know who they were, as though there were separate worlds instead of one community that they all shared. 

It was a combination of factors that left me feeling more on the outside of the place that I'd known so well. My perspective had changed, and also subtle changed had taken place while I was gone. People had passed away, others had come into their own as parents and grandparents, businesses closed while others opened, buildings were torn down while others were built. 

One day during that 2013 visit I drove over to Kirksville, the nearby city where I'd been born, and almost ran through a stop sign on the highway that shouldn't have been there. While I was away a bypass was finally built around the town to alleviate traffic congestion. No one had told me about the bypass, I didn't know for about a minute what I was looking at, and the feeling of disorientation was a little overwhelming. This was a route I'd known like the back of my hand, and now 'suddenly' a whole new highway existed. In fact, it had been there for a few years at that point.

The trouble with going home again isn't just in feeling out of place, I've found. As the years have passed my attitude towards that place has changed, as has my understanding of events that took place there. I don't gloss over the ugly parts, though perhaps some become more difficult to remember. It's more that I've come to understand that while different locations are unique in history, customs, and even language, no matter where you are...there you are. 

Normally when I 'go home' my time is kept to only 3 or 4 days there, and I only see a few people. This year, 2022, I'm thinking that unless COVID gets in the way, I'll try to spend a week there around Independence Day. Hurdland, the small town nearest the farm where I grew up, holds an annual 4th of July celebration in its park, and this will be the 150th occasion. Maybe by spending a little time there, catching up with folks, remembering the good and not being able to avoid the less-that-ideal, I'll be able to regain a sense of where I'm from and how I can relate to it in the future. 

That book by Thomas Wolfe I mentioned above includes the following, ellipses and all, towards the conclusion:

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

Going back isn't an option. Not for me or for anyone, really. Even those who remained in Knox County have moved forward. It isn't for me to 'go home,' but rather sort out how I'll go forward with home, whatever that will mean.