There probably are not many people who aren’t at least somewhat familiar with the Thomas Wolfe novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” It tells the story of an author who writes of his home town in such a manner, the residents react with menacing letters and even death threats.
Over the years I have written about my home town and, at least as far as I know, haven’t evoked the kind of emotions George Webber, Wolfe’s character, did.
But a recent trip to my home town for a family gathering brought home to me that you really can’t go home again.
I was raised in the small Delta County community of Rock. As I’ve written before, it was, ethnically speaking, pretty much a 50-50 split of Finnish and French-Canadian.
True to form, my mothers parents were Nellie Trombly, whose family can trace their roots to a lone Frenchman sailing to Quebec in the 1600s and Frank Salmi who was born in Finland and immigrated as a toddler. I have vivid memories of growing up in that little community and most of them are good.
But as I was driving through Rock last month I realized why Thomas Wolfe was right about being unable to go home.
I was driving through Rock en route to Perkins, nine miles to the south for my Uncle Frank and Aunt Lorraine’s 51st anniversary party. Uncle Frank is my mother’s only sibling and because of that, at the age of 5, I served as their ring bearer.
The party was held in the church where I was baptized, served as an alter boy and said goodbye to both parents, all four grandparents and numerous other friends and relatives.
As I drove through Rock, accompanied by our middle grandchild Mia, I realized you can’t go home again, because the moment you leave, the home town you knew, changes and becomes something else. Sometimes that something is better, sometimes not, but the fact remains that “home” you knew doesn’t exist.
I tried to point out to Mia things of significance and there were a few … the restaurant my parents owned which has remained closed since dad’s death two years ago.
The large yellow house, with slate siding I grew up in and the school building, now a building supply company famous for their TV commercials.
But the differences were greater than the similarities. Larson’s General Store, where my grandmother cut meat and let us pick out popsicles on hot summer days is gone. A flagpole and little park have replaced the store I still visit in dreams.
Cliff’s Barber Shop, where my Papa took me for 75 cent haircuts is a vacant lot, as is the site where the bowling alley and movie theater stood for decades. (Yes, even a little town like Rock had high-class entertainment back in the day).
The fact the town I knew and loved so much now exists only in my memory, was really depressing and nearly made me turn around and come back to the place I now call home.
But I continued onward and when I walked into that church and saw the faces of those who knew me then and still love me now, I was filled with a sense of belonging.
I realized that Thomas Wolfe was right, I can’t go home again. I also realized that day, that as far as friends and family are concerned, I never really left.