By Arthur H. Gunther III
USA -- Times change, people do, communities certainly. “You can’t go
home again,” literally, as Thomas Wolfe put it. Yet, the pull of one’s
childhood place is mighty strong, despite the “better” land you may now
live in, some memories you might want to forget, the effect of the
mind’s eye looking through rose-colored glasses and despite feeling
alien in what was once your territory. Any village, any town where your
being was formed is an extension of the womb, that particular place from
that particular mother.
So it was with some goosebumps that I
recently drove through my old haunts, on a volunteer errand to install a
coat rack for a non-profit. My childhood village, which was also my
father’s and to which my grandfather came in young adulthood, has
changed so very much, the combined and continuing effects of suburbia
eating up downtowns as strip and mall shopping rises; no planning for
renewal and growth; older housing neglected, turned into rentals that
often gouge immigrants and the poor; a population increasingly of
self-interest and exclusion; and a government proving dysfunctional and
charging high taxes for the privilege.
Actually, I am in my
hometown every Tuesday, but my 2:30 a.m. entry to cook in a breakfast
program is as focused on that task as a horse with blinders is on the
race. So, I see little of the streets where I walked and rode my bike;
the four schools I attended; my friends’ homes; and the country lanes
where young adult emotions began to take hold. I do not see my
grandparents going to work at the smoking pipe factory, or, if I had
been there, my Dad running the 440-yard dash at the high school track. I
cannot find my old teachers or great-grandparents; the hardware stores,
the many druggists, the movie theater, the soda fountain. I do not
grasp the sense of what was my shared community in the space of my time
But when I came later in the week, in the daylight to
install the coat rack, I saw life on the streets. I saw so many new
buildings, encountered heavy traffic, recognized no one. I saw change,
and I felt alienated, though I had no right to be affected, for this was
no longer the exact place where I grew up, where life literally formed
for me and those around me.
I then drove through the 1860
tunnel under the old Erie, the line that brought my grandfather to town
and through which my father took us to swim in a nearby village. I
continued on this road and another, taking a route back to my present
home 10 miles away that I had not used for 20 years. I passed this house
or that, the remnant of a farm, a hill where I picked flowers for my
mother’s birthday when I was 10. I saw my past.
It was then that
while I realized you can never go home again, emotions set deeply
inside always tug at your senses when you are close to your roots. It is
like a mother’s reassurance to her child, no matter how old you become.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org This essay may be reproduced.