You can’t go home again. The expression is borne from the title of a Thomas Wolffe novel, meaning if you try to return to a place you remember from the past, it won’t be the same as you remember it. I feel like this saying has a large breadth of application… or else I’ve become quite adept at manipulating the circumstances and interpreting the expression to make it fit my needs. You can take it deep or keep it light hearted.
“Do you know what I used to think was so wonderful?” my sister asked me the other night. “Sno-cones. What was so great about sno-cones?”
“What’s not so great about sno-cones?” I shot back. “I still love ’em.” But I knew what she meant.
Have you ever had a fabulous taste and/or ambiance experience at a restaurant? You think about it for days afterwards. You tell all your friends about the wonderful food and the attentive service. You decide to get a group together and go back. Then when you do, it sucks. And it seems the longer you wait to go back, the bigger the hype leading into the return, the bigger the disappointment when it turns out not to be all that you remembered.
Restaurants also seem to be quite the provocateur of nostalgia. Who remembers having a birthday dinner at Bill Knapp’s, eating endless chips and salsa at Chi-Chi’s or drinking A&W root beer from a frosty mug lifted off a tray attached to the car window? Ah, the memories.
MOH and I started dating while we were both working at a Big Boy restaurant. Ahhh, young love and stolen kisses in the walk-in cooler. Our Big Boy is now an IHOP. That fact hasn’t made me as sad as I once thought it might. But as the Big Boys disappear one by one, it will indeed be a very dark day for me when they are all gone.
Many people have unsettled feelings when returning to a hometown after an extended period of time away. My siblings spent most of their school days in Northville, Michigan and didn’t have much occasion to return to the vicinity. After a visit to a much changed town thirty odd years later, my sister reported feeling weird to the point of queasiness. “Kind of like being in the twilight zone. I don’t think I’ll be going back,” she decided.
A trip back to school can feel like that too. My son talks about the ‘weirdness’, describing the tiny desks and the long hallways that aren’t really that long after all. When I was in elementary school, I was a town kid and I think about the walk back and forth to school that felt like five miles, (especially in the winter) but was really only five blocks. SO much can happen and did, when you’re a kid. It sometimes took up to 30 minutes for me to get home. It was like another class period – unsupervised!
And as long as we’re talking about school, what about class reunions. Some people wouldn’t go to a class reunion if you paid them. I always attend, but they evoke a weird mix of emotions in me: melancholy, regret, happiness, and worries about time passing me by. I love catching up with classmates, some I’ve known since kindergarten, but I often walk away reevaluating my life. And heck, maybe that’s a good check in for me. On the other hand, it’s bad if you measure yourself against those that are on a different path.
Sometimes places that have changed leave us with fond memories. My dad used to take me to Jay’s Bookmart in Jackson. We could browse the shelves for hours. The bookstore is gone now and Designs Plus has taken over the building, but I get a warm happy feeling whenever I drive past. “ That’s where Jay’s Bookmart used to be,” I say every time. But it doesn’t always work that way.
My latest past time involves pulling over to the side of the road to snap a picture whenever I see a beautiful or interesting willow tree. (Yes. I am fabulously fun at parties.) Recently I was in the vicinity of some great willow trees from my childhood, Willow Creek Golf Course. I knew the golf course was closed and the property has changed hands, but I decided to drive past, reasoning that surely there should still be some willow trees. Heartbreaking! I would have pulled over and cried had I not wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. I wasn’t naive enough to think there would still be acres of manicured grass alongside the billowing willows. (Okay. Maybe I was a teensy bit hopeful.) But the site looked like the side of any other country road with brush, trees and field grass. There was not a single willow tree in sight.
Why do these changes make us feel the way they do? I guess you can’t go home again. Or can you? A couple years ago I was at the periodontist having some fun surgery (NOT!) on my gums. The doctor suggested I take some deep breaths, close my eyes and visualize myself in a happy place. (I’m actually pretty good at this during stressful situations, IF I remember to do it.) After a moment she noted my relaxed state.
“You’re doing great,” she said. “Are you on a sunny beach somewhere?”
“Uh-uh,” I grunted around a mouthful of cotton. “At my mom’s house, lying on her couch.” And I was, and it was better than a sandy beach anywhere. There’s no place like home.