Marsha and I were born and raised in New Albany, a town of 40,000 in southern Indiana. We got married after college and moved to Chicago in 1974. Looking back, I moved in order to test myself on a bigger stage. Marsha moved to leave the stress of her parents’ deteriorating marriage. I think we both wanted to try something different. All of our parents have died, but our siblings and their children still live there. We love visiting them, and lots of friends whom we know from childhood. We visit three or four times a year.
New Albanians are great people. There is an honesty and authenticity. My old friends and family knew me before I became me. They remember me as a shy idealistic dork and I remember their early versions. We laugh at all the old stories and the good times we have shared. Like soldiers going through boot camp, we shared a mid-20th-century Midwestern childhood experience that melded us together for life. The cheerleaders, sports stars, brains, nerds, theater kids, et al, have become aging men and women who have survived life’s tragedies and enjoyed the good times and are going forward, which is pretty much the only way to go.
So for me, you absolutely can and should go home if you can, no matter the circumstances. In the Bible, the Prodigal Son returns home after squandering his inheritance, much to the joy of his father. “Thy younger brother was lost and now he is found.” Ulysses was gone from his home for many years, but returned. John Denver went back to West Virginia.
Of course George Webber in Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again went back home, but the title derives from the psychic reality that you can’t go back in time — to home or anywhere else. When I go home to New Albany, I frequently drive or run by my old home at 1312 Indiana Avenue, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and New Albany High School. I swing by the rejuvenating downtown. Most of the stores from my youth are gone, but the storefronts came back as something different. I drive by my friends’ old houses even though only their ghosts live there now.
I probably shouldn’t frequent these old haunts. Doing so makes me sad. No matter how much fun it is to reminisce about the past, it is gone. Forever.
“The places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which we situate them for our greater convenience. They were only a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; the houses, roads, avenues are, alas, as fleeting as the years” (Swan’s Way, Marcel Proust).