Going Home Again

Going Home Again

The Thomas Wolfe line “you can’t go home again” is widely quoted, with various connotations.  I have to admit that I’ve not read anything Mr. Wolfe wrote (or at least not that I can recall; high school was a long time ago!), so if the context here is ill-applied, mea culpa.

My parents watched their house being built in 1955, and still live there today.  But they both had roots–hers deeper than his–in a small town about 80 miles away, where we were fortunate to be frequent visitors with both sets of grandparents, a few great-grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and lots of cousins.  To me, this seemed like my rightful “hometown”, and I still stop by there now and then, mostly to place silk flowers at numerous headstones in the cemetery where 5 generations of my kin now rest.  It’s a peaceful place, that hillside by the little white Methodist church, and there are definitely more folks in the cemetery now than there are left in that tiny, sleepy town.

Cruising slowly up Cherry Street after my stop at the kirkyard, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to look at the once-proud old Victorian house that had been my maternal grandparents’ home.  Houses require upkeep, and this one hasn’t received the TLC it deserves.  Roofing, paint, and window work would be a good start, and probably some updates to the heating, plumbing and electrical systems as well.  And it’s possible the foundation could use some shoring up, and those weeds out back ought to be mowed!  I bemoaned the condition of the place to my cousin Kerry L., and received in return his kind words of wisdom, which were something along the lines of:  “Whether the house is there or not, your memories remain.  It’s the people who lived there and the time you spent with them that you miss.”

And you know what?  He is so right.  Just topping the hill on the two-lane highway approaching town, made the words “I see the Bridge!” pop into my head, just as my siblings and I raced to be the first to say them each time we were driven there for a visit.  The sight of the flagpole in the middle of the crossroads by the funeral parlor immediately brings to mind the dinner table tales of Daddy being paid a nickel (and later a dime!) to shimmy up and shine the metal ball at the top.  The fact that the driveway to the house is overgrown now doesn’t dim my joyous recollection of hopping out of the station wagon, racing to the front door to be enveloped in my grandma’s embrace, and promptly being offered some warm-from-the-oven pie crust with cinnamon sugar baked on top.  “These pieces were left over” she would tell us, “would you children like to clean this up?”, as if we were doing her a big favor by assuaging our hunger with a sweet treat before dinner.  Grandpa’s books, the card games he always won (we didn’t mind, he beat Everyone!) Grandma’s paintings, the high-ceilinged bedroom upstairs with tall windows in three walls that were angled so that we could see up and down the street as well as straight across . . . the memories go on and on.  They’re here, in my head and in my heart, where they will stay and be treasured.

And in this way, even through the grief of loss, there is the celebration of what was.  And what it was, was pretty special.


Picture This!

Picture This!

In 1950, the U S Army drafted my daddy into service.  Of course, he wasn’t my daddy yet then, or anybody else’s either; that came later.  While stationed in Korea, however, at the PX (Post Exchange) he bought a 35mm camera, a Leica.  It had a black metal chassis with an orange peel texture, and a brown leather strap he would hang over his neck to keep it handy for those opportune moments.  The flash attachment looked like a small stainless steel lady’s fan when collapsed, but unfurled into a reflective daisy blossom with a blue glass center once the flashbulb was plugged and twisted into it.  One bulb, one flash.  The bulbs weren’t cheap, so many photos were taken outside or near windows during the daytime, where natural lighting made using the flash unnecessary.

The 35mm film could either be turned into prints or slides.  Once you had the slide, you could always have a print made from it, but not the other way around, so Daddy’s color film was often processed into slides. The little white cardboard frames made them easy to number and  store standing up in a tray-type box with slots, and there was a paper chart that just fit inside the lid of the metal box, on which the subject matter of each corresponding slide was recorded.  It was always a special night when the slide projector came out of the box and the tripod with its telescoping bar was set up and the screen raised and suspended from the top of the bar.  Picture time!  We’d review happy memories of birthdays, vacations, trips downtown to see the riverboats on the Mississippi, visits from family members or other special guests.  We got to enjoy these episodes all over again, by way of the slide shows.

Daddy is 85 now, but not a man to be left behind the times.  Through the wonders of modern technology, a home computer and a program called Photoshop, he’s going through those old slides–many of which have faded to a bluish cast over the years–and reworking the colors on the digitally converted images.  He sent several to me via email.  While it’s not quite the same effect as sitting on the floor with my siblings in a darkened room with the hum of the projector’s cooling fan motor in the background, it still gives me a chance to relive some pretty neat times. I’m thankful for so many things our parents provided us, and for the thought they put into preserving our history in pictures.  Thank you, Daddy, for continuing that effort!

Here’s an example, both before, and after:

J.  with doll (before)     J. and doll (after)