You can’t go home again. It’s more than the title of the posthumously published Thomas Wolfe novel or an episode of Battlestar Galactica; it’s a basic truth.
Yesterday I returned from a one-week visit to my home town. It’s typical of any small town that was beautifully situated but economically sleepy in the 1950s and 60s and subsequently “discovered” by tourism and people who have lots of money.
Most days this week I walked through the downtown area. Memory’s imprint of what used to be a drug store, a florist shop, a men’s clothing store, a tobacconist’s, a bakery, a general store where folks bought their fishing licenses overlay today’s businesses- -kitchen shops, restaurants of every description, an upscale sporting goods store and galleries and gift shops for every taste. This transition from practical retail establishments to a shopper’s paradise has been in progress for decades. It was a jolt to resume living in my home town in 1990, after 10 years away. I stood on a downtown street corner and ranted to anyone who’d listen about how the whole place had been “Disneyfied.” These days, I blur my vision and imagine I’m visiting some other town. It’s just easier that way.
Time has also changed the people I know there. My friends and family are 9 years older than they were when we moved to the other side of the state. Many in my circle have retired. Some have died. Family will always be family, of course, and when I visit my closest friends we pick up as if I’ve been gone for days instead of years. But the issues in their lives and the things they do for fun have shifted. Different people have entered and exited their lives, too.
Changes in place, changes in people- -but also, changes in self. After nine years in rural wheat country it’s hard to feel comfortable in even a small city. There’s simply too much- -too many buildings, too many people and far too many cars. If I linger in the most heavily traveled parts of town, I go into sensory overload. The neighborhood where I grew up, where my mom still lives and where I stay when I visit, is overbuilt, overgrown and overpriced. The town I lived in nine short years ago is already a shadow.
In spite of all this, we’re exploring the possibility of moving back. On the plus side are friends; family; a more comfortable political climate; closer access to groceries, banks and medical services. On the minus side are the friends we’ve made here; terrific medical professionals we feel lucky to have found; a fabulous grocery store (20 miles away) that has low-priced produce and more bulk bins than I’ve seen anywhere else. Our house is comfortable, light, and paid for. There’s a glorious view of the Blue Mountains from our kitchen window.
This week I looked at houses for sale in my home county. I saw one place that’s possible, but I’m not sold on moving back. It’s a funny feeling, spinning my wheels between staying and going while in the middle of life (provided I live to be 112). My husband is ambivalent about moving, too. He’s from Nevada and feels the pull from there, though his home town, like mine, has changed beyond recognition. There’s an underlying desire in both of us to go back in time, not in terms of societal change but to a simpler material world. Not so much stuff created with built in obsolescence, more modest expectations of what people want in a house, less of the busy-busy-busy cycle of digital information. If we can figure out how to do that, maybe you’d like to join the expedition?