“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…”*
I went back home today. Well okay, I didn’t really take the eight hundred mile trip between where I’ve called home for the last thirty-five years and the place where I grew up, but I did go in my head. I have actually made the physical trip several times over the last three decades, but each time, I was disappointed in some way. I like it better in my head.
I walked across the street from the old frame house where I spent most of my childhood. In my mind’s eye I am not an adult, but a barefoot, scruffy kid in cutoff blue jeans. As I leave the searing hot pavement, I see on the left, my Grandpa sitting on the screened in porch of his home, the house Dad had moved in for him and Grandma. I sing out a careless, “Hi, Grandpa!”, but for some reason, in my imagination, it is the voice of my grandson I hear and not my own. With no breath to call out in reply, he raises his hand and smiles, just as he always did, to anyone who looked his way. His life for many years consisted of just that, sitting in the old metal lawn chair on the porch and watching the world go by, or sitting in his easy chair inside watching the world go by on television; the days broken up only by difficult walks between his roosting places. Emphysema stole away not only his breath, but his life, the disease itself precipitated by years of smoking and laboring in toxic environments. But, I pass on by with a wave of my own, oblivious to his discomfort, content that he is simply there.
I walk beside the foundations of the old house, a dim memory for me; it was torn down when I was five to clear the property for our mobile home. My only real remembrance of that structure was of filling the cellar with dirt and concrete pieces after the old deserted house was razed. Up ahead a few feet, the place where the mobile home sat for a few years. The trailer had been home to my family of seven for a number of years, traveling all the way to Florida when Dad was stationed there with the Navy, and back when he was discharged. We were crammed in there like sardines, but we never realized that it was a hardship. In my mind, I replay the day we brought the bull snake in from the field behind, thinking it was dead, only to have the angry fellow loose in the trailer and terrorizing the whole family an hour or two later, when we returned to find the empty gallon jar in which we had left him. Other memories are stirred by the place, but they’ll wait for another day…
Past the trailer site is the empty field where we played football, basketball and sometimes, softball. The decrepit light poles that Dad dug post holes for and then ran wires to are still present, but there are lights at the top no longer; the wires have broken and rotted or been cut away years ago. Still, I remember like it was yesterday, the two long afternoons and evenings when I used a shovel and hoe to clear away every vestige of buffel grass, so that the boy’s church group would have a place to play basketball when we were temporarily kicked out by the church where we had been playing. The buffel grass is knee high once again.
Landmarks jump to mind: the “little house” – really just a ramshackle old shed where we played in the rafters and on the tin roof, as well as sneaking a cigarette or two from our stolen stash. It’s long gone; torn down in the interest of safety. There’s the place where one brother built a pig pen; the cause of an argument between him and my mother about keeping it cleaned up. Mom: “It’ll just be one great big lob lolly!” Brother: “It will not be a lol lobby! I’ll keep it shoveled out every morning.” To this day, I don’t know what either a lob lolly, or a lol lobby, is. (The pigs did fine, either way.)
Back there is the place where “The Hole” used to be. We were good with shovels when it came to taking dirt out of the ground. Not so good with putting it back. This particular place is epic in my memory, the site of many dirt clod wars, and not a few battles with homemade slingshots loaded with the fruit of the china berry tree. The enemy usually were armed with Daisy BB guns, but we held our own and often prevailed. The hole is now little more than a depression in the field as I walk by.
The fence stops me here, but there was no such barrier present for many years while I was growing up. On past that boundary lies the irrigation canal, a highway to adventure any day we chose to wander along it…beside it, inside it, bridging it with two by fours…even straddling it, with legs spread wide, one foot on each of the vertical concrete sides. An excursion along the canal never failed to net us a bounty of adventure and a mishap or two.
The memories could go on forever, but suddenly, a stronger realization takes hold. This can never be any more than a stroll down memory lane. I’ll never physically make that trip again, since the property is no longer in the family. My parents haven’t lived in the house across the street for fifteen years and will probably never live there again. Grandpa has passed on, and the boy who enjoyed the amazing adventure of growing up there is no longer. Now a grandpa myself, even if my feet could ever walk that winding path again, there has been a lot of water move past in the stream of life.
I can’t go home.
It’s a sobering thought. The comfort of home and loved ones lying behind is a strong inspiration. It encourages and motivates us to keep going when the path ahead is as dark as night. I still remember the emotions that have been evoked every single time I have seen the old place in the rear view mirror as I have left. I remember my tears, thirty-some years ago, as the Lovely Lady and I drove away and headed back north at the end of my first visit back after leaving. Her selfless words to me then are still strong in my memory. “I’ll move back here with you if you want…” But I knew, even then, that I couldn’t go home. Oh, I have visited and enjoyed the visits immensely. I have taken the trip down the roads of memory more times than I will admit. But, home is now in a different locale. Memories have been made in a new place.
And, that’s the way it works. We move forward. Unlike me, some of you will do it from the same physical location all of your lives, but you don’t stand still. All of us mature and grow, and the world around us changes. We can’t go back and I don’t believe that any of us really would, even if it were possible.
You know, if you have read many of my posts, that I love the joys that are remembered, and the life lessons that are brought to mind by our past. But, one foot after another, step by step, mile by mile, we are still moving along the path of life. We have learned from the past, we have reveled in the love and shared experiences. But our goal, our vision, is always out ahead of us. If we look back for too long, longing for a simpler time, or yearning for joys past, we miss the exhilaration of today and the expectation of tomorrow.
I like the poem, that Tolkien used in different form a number of times in his books, about The Road. His idea, that stepping onto the road outside our front door would sweep us to places we could never dream of, strikes a note with me. The adventure is not behind, it is still ahead. We advance with eager hearts, knowing that just around the next bend, challenges and joys, along with some sorrows, lie waiting to be faced.
I guess in a way, you could say that while you can’t go back home, you can go ahead to home. And, along the way, home comes right along with us.
There’s no place like home.
“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”
“Because, this is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing when I get back to Narnia that I left a mystery behind me through fear.”
(Reepicheep, the mouse~”Voyage of the Dawn Treader” from “The Chronicles of Narnia~C.S.Lewis)
“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
(“The Road Goes Ever On” from “The Return of the King” ~J.R.R. Tolkien)
*”You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe, Harper Brothers, 1940