I don’t know about you, but I get so tired of hearing people quote Heraclitus! I mean, if I’ve heard ‘you cannot step twice into the same stream’ once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Okay, that’s hyperbole.
But I have heard “you can’t go home again” through the years. A couple of people remarked to me before I went back to New Jersey last weekend for my high school reunion that, “You know what Thomas Wolfe said: you can’t go home again.” I had to reach back into my literature classes data bank to remember why he said that.
As I recall, George Webber, Wolfe’s main character in that book, had written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returned to town, however, he was met with outrage and hatred. Family and lifelong friends felt exposed by what they had read in his books, and this hostile environment drove him out of his hometown. He then embarked on self-discovery travels and adventures around the world, but he eventually returned to America with sorrow, love, and hope for the future.
I got to thinking: I don’t think I have dissed Trenton enough to expect that sort of reception!
Evidently I hadn’t, because the villagers of Ewing did not greet my arrival with torches. In fact, the whole weekend was a blast and the food was to die for (now to diet for). Reconnecting with old friends. Traveling to ancestral places in West Trenton, Lawrenceville and Frenchtown (ancestral sounds more regal than those places are). Discovering my mother finally has a headstone (that’s a long story). Finding my grandparents’ headstones and my great grandparents’ headstones. Suddenly the years I had spent away from my hometown – about twice as many as I had lived there – seemed strangely condensed, and as I stood in the Frenchtown Cemetery between grandparents and great grandparents (and Aunt May whose ashes are somewhere in that mix), I had a vivid memory of a conversation I had had years ago with a phenomenal woman named Libba Pritchard from Inverness, MS.
I met Miss Libba in the Delta and she immediately inquired about my people. I told her about my NJ roots, and then I said, “But I repented of my Yankeeness when I moved to Montgomery, AL.” Miss Libba thought that was hysterical and every person thereafter to whom she introduced me heard that line.
And last weekend, there I was, standing with a couple of generations who contributed to my being here… and there… and I decided to repent of my repentance – not that I had any desire to return to Yankeedom, but repentance indicates remorse, and I have no remorse. No sorrow. That part of the world is my home in the deepest sense of the world. It is the only place where I can say ‘remember when’ about the earliest days of my life and people know what I’m talking about. It is the place with people who remember my mother and father and even my grandmother. It is the place where I learned to walk and talk and play and write in cursive and conjugate Latin verbs and solve quadratic equations. It is the place with the girls who moved into the teenage years together and all the angst and heartbreak and giddiness those years entail.
I realized on this trip that I could go home again even after I’d left, but more importantly I realized home had never left me.