You Can’t Go Home Again

You’ve heard the words, “You can’t go home again,” usually indicating that things change, that what you remember from your childhood will look—and actually be—different than how you experienced it oh-so-many years ago.

There’s a story that’s been niggling around in the back of my mind wanting to be told, of a decrepit, miserly old man from my childhood and his rickety old mansion that took up the better portion of a town block. I’ve started the story many times only to set it aside, and finally delete it weeks later. Yet, it lingers in my mind like one of those menopausal thoughts you can’t quite bring to consciousness during waking hours, but you know will reveal itself at 3a.m. when you wake tossing sheets and blankets off your sweat-drenched body.

I’ve waited, I’ve woken, I’ve tossed—still nothing. I thought that perhaps my recent trek back to my hometown to bury my parents (see April blog) might shake something loose. My cousins, siblings, and I spent a goodly amount of time driving and walking through the Midwestern summer drizzle I-spying all our old haunts—schools, former family homes, old soda fountains, the library, the parks, spending hours sharing our “do you remember when . . .” stories.

The two houses I’d grown up in, more or less recognizable, sported some needed upgrades. My grandmother’s house was missing the garden and back yard where we spent much of our childhood, running up and down the cellar door, and making dancing dolls of Hollyhocks and clothespins. My aunt’s house, the hub of our family’s activities, was missing the wrap-around porch, and the hand pump that would deliver icy, mineraly tasting water to our waiting cupped hands on a hot summer day, was no longer there. My elementary school that also housed the high school when I was little, was gone. An empty lot remained where children, including my father, had received their education, romped in the playgrounds, rooted for the home team in the football field out back. My old church was there, but surrounded by so many new buildings that it seemed as out of place as big mole on a fair-skinned child.

I asked my cousin to drive us by the rickety old mansion that plagued my writer’s mind, hoping it would inspire a rush of memory, a flood of words, an outpouring of story line so that I could finally get this tale out of my head.

The house was empty. Not abandoned, shuttered, falling to the ground empty as I’d expected, but a newly remodeled, newly landscaped, freshly painted, not-yet-sold empty. The house of my memory doesn’t even exist. If it weren’t for the location, I’d have driven right on by, not recognized it.

Staring at the big house on the corner lot, I felt tears brim, the hot, stinging, unfair, doesn’t make any kind of sense tears that I refused to let fall. I blinked back my grief at the loss, although I wasn’t sure exactly what the loss was.

Was I grieving the loss of the home of an old curmudgeon from my childhood? Or was I grieving the loss of my childhood, my innocence, my belief that the world was safe, and people were good and always did the right thing, that nothing would ever harm me, and things would be the same forever? That the President knows best, the police can always be trusted, doctors have the answers, teachers are beyond reproach, and that there would be freedom and justice for all? Or was I finally grieving the loss of my family of elders—now all dead?

Maybe it was just the loss of a good story, after all.