Sunday, September 21, 2014

Visiting Home

A classic - and still open! - the Red Robin Diner

Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.”

After you’ve been away for any stretch of time, home is no longer what it was when you lived there. And you are no longer the same person.

Oh, there may be some things about your former home that seem familiar. The layout of the streets. The houses on the street where you grew up. Maybe even the diner is still there where you hung out with your high school friends.

But now there’s a new highway bypass and road noise you didn’t hear growing up. The street has lost a few trees to disease, and several people have put aluminum siding over the stucco. The diner seems old and tired, the silverware has lost its sparkle, and your friends have moved to Florida or Arizona or Virginia.

Home changed while you were gone. You changed too.

I recently journeyed to the village where I grew up to attend a high school class reunion. 45th year reunion.

I was surprised by the large turnout, about 100 total, including spouses for many, out of a graduating class of 237. The size of the crowd made more sense when co-hostess R announced that fully half of my classmates had remained their entire lives in the village. For them it was an evening out, much like any other social function for the past four and a half decades, except with people they haven’t seen in decades, or perhaps never really knew in high school to begin with. My first impression was “who are all these old people?” Some of the women were recognizable, particularly those whose hairstyle hadn’t really changed, but it was more difficult to superimpose vague memories of yearbook photos with guys who had lost their hair or grown a mustache or beard (like me).

We got a prize for traveling the furthest – about 6000 kilometers (3600 miles) – and just about everyone we greeted seemed to know ahead of time that we lived in France. My junior high girlfriend, D, part of the reunion committee, had apparently spread the word. Most wanted to know what it was like living in Europe, and we repeated the highlights about the low-stress lifestyle, the huge beach, the mountains, some of the places we’ve seen. A couple of classmates recounted their own travels to Europe, including places near Argeles that I didn’t know about but Donna-Lane did.
My favorite place at CFJ pool was the high dive.
During the open mike session there was plenty of nostalgia. Remembrances of teachers, popular and otherwise. Classmates who had passed away already – though not many – our group is in our early 60s. Funny personal incidents. Homage to old hangouts, some of which are still hanging on. Several comments about the huge CFJ pool, now only an historic postcard memory.
Loved to sit in the 3rd base bleachers to try to catch foul balls
The “old” high school, our building, is a sad-looking excuse for a few low-end retail shops. We still refer to the “new” high school, even though it was under construction as we graduated. Many of the stores on Main Street are shuttered, as shopping moved to the Mall on the somewhat-growing side of town. Johnson Field, home to the Triplets and our high school football games, was razed in favor of a highway that helps speed people through Johnson City without stopped to appreciate it. The one business that has grown the most is the hospital – guess there are lots of aging folks in the region.

Disappointed that the Endwell Bakery is no more. When I was dating K, I’d buy three dozen chocolate eclairs a week there just to see her. More disappointed she didn’t attend the reunion. A couple of girls I dated were there; the rest were just photos in the yearbook and mental images of clandestine notes passed in class and kisses in dark corners.

We had the farewell brunch at the Traditions Resort, which has aspirations of becoming a casino. They inherited the mansion which had been the "Homestead" for IBM training classes and the IBM golf course where I spent the majority of my teen years. The resort did not incorporate the sprawling complex of country club buildings, which included swimming pools, a bowling alley, basketball court, tennis, ballfields, and the restaurant overlooking the 1st tee where Rocky served up the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted. Disheartening to see the weeds and decay of such an icon building.

It was good to visit for a brief time, see some familiar faces, most of whom I’ll probably never see again. It was better to give a glimpse to Donna-Lane of the place and people (especially my 91-year-old mother) that helped shape who I am, even if much of it is gone or changed. Seeing certain places revived a few long-forgotten memories. It also made me appreciate how fortunate I have been in the places I’ve been, the interesting things I've been able to do, and especially the people I’ve known over the years. 

But Wolfe was right. You cannot truly ever go “home” again.

1 comment:

  1. It was fine to visit for a brief time, see some well-known faces, most of whom I’ll almost certainly never see once more. Thank you for this sharing! Visit here