Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” I say, “Rubbish!”
What he may have meant was that, after leaving the nest, you can’t go back and expect home to feel exactly as it did when you were 10 or 11. This is true enough. Frankly, would you want it to?
What Mr. Wolfe didn’t mention was that, after leaving and then coming back, home can still be great, just in a different way. Dare I say that home can feel even better once you’ve given it some space?
My friends who have also moved away from their hometowns all agree that the longer we live elsewhere, the less recognizable our “hometown” becomes. New roads are built; familiar buildings get torn down; trees fall; old acquaintances leave. When we return for a visit, we have to sit and think, or even consult a map, before driving routes that we used to know like the back of our hand. Can we even call it our hometown anymore?
This conversation is usually accompanied by sighs and head-shaking. Everything’s changing, we say. And it is a little sad. But isn’t it also kind of…right?
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my hometown to be exactly as it was 20 years ago. The potholes would be nightmarish!
A little change is natural and healthy. Take the lake up the road from my parents’ house in Springfield, Virginia: Lake Accotink has been a part of my family’s life for decades. It’s lovely, with a fun marina and a roughly 4-mile trail that circles it, providing a terrific resource for runners and other pedestrians who want to escape the pavement.
When we first moved to Virginia, the Accotink trail was…a little rough around the edges. There were several steep, heavily-rooted hills; a couple of ravines prone to flooding; and a handful of other attributes that could turn a trip around the lake into quite an adventure. They’ve since put in bridges and paved over some tricky spots, none of which detracts from the natural beauty of it all. Not to mention, the marina now hosts a variety of camps and outdoor education programs for kids and adults alike.
Now that’s what I call progress.
Another example is Mount Vernon, a.k.a. the home of George Washington. When I went there on elementary school field trips in the late ’80s, I vaguely remember touring the mansion and walking around the grounds a little, but nothing about it really excited me. Now? There’s a museum, an education center with really cool movies about Washington’s life, a stellar restaurant, and so much to see on the grounds.
If Mount Vernon had stayed exactly the same, what would have happened? Would it have become “Mount Vernon Town Center”? An outlet mall?
Thank God it didn’t.
When we leave our hometowns, we don’t stay the same — we grow, we mature, we discard parts of ourselves that hold us back. We do our best to become better. Why should we expect anything different from our hometowns?
And just as we all can and should be proud of how we’ve changed and improved over the years, if things change a little back home, we can and should be proud of that as well.
After all, if we bring someone to our hometown for their first visit, it would be a shame if they plummeted into a bottomless pothole.