Going Home Again


By Sam Garfield

Nov. 27, 1958

(Lisbon Falls) —“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe. How true.

“Where’s Lisbon Falls,” you’re probably asking. It’s a mill town in southeastern Maine. Pretty enough, I guess, with plenty of nature and shimmering streams. I was born there, in a farmhouse deep in a forest of pine. I visited Lisbon Falls this past week; hadn’t been back since the summer of ’51. You see, I’m starting work on a book and I thought going back home would jar some memories from my youth. Visit the place where I grew up. After a few days, I realized Wolfe knew what he was writing about.

Thanksgiving seems like an appropriate time to think about home, more specifically going home again. Life had changed little in Lisbon Falls — our ball field sports a new outfield fence; the weekly newspaper boasts a livelier sports section. New Englanders, you know, move slowly when it comes to change. (How ironic, given the Minutemen and all.)

At the midpoint of my long drive back to Chicago I thought about what I learned from going home again. But my mind was bogged down, clogged with memories, some sadness and, I must admit, much indifference. These thoughts were stuck in different parts of my head; I couldn’t shake them loose to get a clear feeling about my visit. I rolled down the window a bit to let in the chilly night air and I did what any normal, albeit confused, newspaperman would do. I interviewed myself.

“So, how was it? Do you miss Lisbon Falls?

“It was okay. No, can’t say that I do.”

“Did you get any inspiration for your book?”

“Actually I did. Not sure how I’m going to use it, but I’ve got a few ideas. So I guess the trip was useful.”

“Why do you think people like to go home again?”

“Beats me. I think they go back home because they expect to magically morph into their youth again when, for most people, times were carefree and easy. It’s almost like a vacation from reality. Like a big whiff of oxygen; makes you whole again. But that’s not always the case.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just where is home? Parents tell you it’s where you grew up, where you spent your ‘wonder years.’ Poets say it’s where your heart is. Some people experience both. Not me. I spent about the first nineteen years of my life in Maine. Then I had brief stops in Wichita Falls, Louisville and Champaign before settling down in Chicago. For me, home is Chicago.”

“Yeah, but don’t you think those wonder years and the environment of your youth helped to shape you into the person you are today, and that’s why people like to go home again?”

“That’s a stupid question. You’re telling me that people go home again to reaffirm who they are. If they don’t know who they are as adults, going back to their place of birth isn’t going to help. No, I don’t believe that at all. People go home for a million reasons. Maybe to show their kids how much better they have it than their parents did. Some may go home again because they’re lost; they’re without a center in their life because they’ve lost their job or their spouse or both. And others go home again for the homemade apple pie.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful that, for me, home is where I am. Not where I’m from.

Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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