Well, you can physically go there, but when I looked up the meaning of that expression on the internet, my search revealed this observation: “You can’t truly go back to a place you once …
Well, you can physically go there, but when I looked up the meaning of that expression on the internet, my search revealed this observation: “You can’t truly go back to a place you once lived because so much will have changed since you left that it is not the same place anymore.” (www.wikipedia.com). Hmmm.
I write about my childhood a lot. In part, because I grew up in what is fondly known as “The Wonder Years” (mid-1960s to mid-1970s) and a lot of it was very, very good. A lot... but not all. My childhood was spent in Binghamton, NY and much of it was idyllic. The Triple Cities (Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott) are nestled among picturesque rolling hills and valleys where the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers meet. I grew up in a large Victorian home a block from the river with a veritable gang of childhood pals, some of whom remain friends to this day. I went to school with that gang, played “kick the can” till dark on summer nights, raced out of the house to meet the “Good Humor” man (look it up!) and had plenty of relatives nearby.
I’d say we spent equal amounts of time with both sides of the family, since my mother’s parents and younger brother (good ole Uncle Sid) lived on the other side of town, as did my father’s sister (Aunt Marcia), her husband (Uncle George) and their kids, who were close in age to my sister Vicki and me. All of the grandparents are gone now, and both my parents as well. Uncle George is no longer with us, but Aunt Marcia, now 92, is very much alive, residing at Binghamton’s Riverside Towers. It’s right next door to Temple Concord, where I spent a good deal of the wonder years learning Hebrew and getting into mischief with the Rabbi’s daughter along the way. Hmmm.
The pandemic has been hard on all of us, including Aunt Marcia, who hasn’t left her beautiful condo much in the last few months. So when she called a few weeks ago and asked me to come for a visit, I assured her that I’d carve out some time. I drove there last weekend, Wonder Dog (hmmm) at my side. It’s a gorgeous trip; the stretch between Roscoe and Deposit, NY was named “America’s Most Scenic Highway” in 1967. I remember the sense of pride we all had in Broome County and beyond when that sign, now long gone, was erected roadside for all to see.
Memories from the wonder years flooded my reverie as I steered toward Binghamton that day; some were blurred images tinged with sadness, and others were almost blank as if purposely purged from the image banks of my youth. Deep in thought as the lush scenery rolled by, Dharma stuck her head out the window (don’t write!) and I breathed deeply with her, as I drank in my past, hearing ghosts whisper hauntingly in my ear.
“You look amazing!” I gushed to Aunt Marcia, who was cooing excitedly over the dog first (of course), then me. We both had masks on, and as she stood in the hallway, I took in the passage of time, the walker, her perfectly coiffed hairdo, the place looking “just so” as always (always!) and realized that for the first time ever, we weren’t able to physically hug, and I didn’t get my hello kiss. Hmmm. I perused family photos while Aunt Marcia prepared lunch. Then we dined on the sun porch, chatting, chatting, chatting, about current affairs, the many charms of my dog, the state of the world and, of course, our shared past.
It’s kind of funny (IMHO) how the mind works—what we choose to recall, and what stays buried in dark corners, rarely exposed by the light of day. Aunt Marcia is as sharp as a tack and likely has a better memory than me, but still... we have different versions of how the past played out, and of course, she was an adult, and I a mere child.
As always, conversation never lagged, but as she happily petted Dharma, Aunt Marcia asked me some tough questions, which led to some tough answers; a few skeletons in the closet poked their heads out yelling “boo!” at us both. While acknowledging that, we spoke of other things as well and when our lovely-as-always visit drew to a close, we once again couldn’t hug and I didn’t get my goodbye kiss, which felt weird. I assured Aunt Marcia I’d be back “sooner than later” and took my leave, relieved in a way that those skeletons had made an appearance, if only momentarily.
I swung past the old house, which was getting a facelift (hmmm), and put the pedal to the metal, surprisingly anxious to put the miles between Binghamton and the Catskills behind me, still deep in thought, happy to have spent time with my loving aunt. “We’re almost there, girl!” I squealed joyfully to the dog as the sign flashed past: “Welcome to Sullivan County,” it exclaims, sorely in need of a paint job. “I’ll make a call about that later,” I thought and headed for our exit, breathing a sigh of relief mixed with happiness, tinged with a bittersweet farewell to the past. I guess it’s true what they say: You can’t go home again. Home is where the heart is.
Fun Fact: The expression gained popularity as the title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel “You Can’t Go Home Again” published posthumously in 1940. According to Gail Godwin’s introduction to a 2011 reprint of the book, Wolfe took the title from a conversation with Australian-British journalist Ella Winter who remarked to Wolfe, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?” Wolfe was so taken with the expression that he asked Winter for permission to use the phrase as the title of his book.