Years ago, when Pete and I were still childless and living in a Washington DC suburb, we spent several years trying to figure out where we wanted to end up after our stint in the big city. Among the many places we considered was my hometown in the southwestern part of Virginia. It was a good place to grow up and had a lot to recommend it, but ultimately we ended up here, in our college town.
Friday morning, I got up, hopped into my car, and made the two hour trek back to the place of my birth. It has been 25 years since I left for college and as the years have racked up, I have spent increasingly less and less time down there. This weekend, however, I was back.
First, I spent time with my grandmother, who might be 86 and using a walker, but her mind is still sharp and her wit is even sharper. She kept me on my toes the whole time I was with her.
I later joked with Pete that with my grandmother, I am still 9 years old, but the fact is, she does treat me like an adult. Most of the time. I was allowed to drive her in her car and take her to lunch. She allowed me to have coffee with breakfast on Saturday morning, instead of the milk I used to drink when I was a little girl. But then she wouldn’t let me help with the dishes and when I was scratching at something on my skin, she barked at me to stop picking.
As I was driving down the highway on Friday, I had a realization that almost caused me to drive off the road. My grandmother is 86. I am 43. Now do the math. Yes, I am the same age my grandmother was when I was born. And I can remember her when she was in her 40s. In fact, even when I’m looking at her, I will sometimes see the younger version of her before snapping back to the present day.
The same double vision presented itself as I drove around town. I’d go through an intersection and see the changes made in the past 25 years, but then would remember what was there when I was growing up. Things were both unfamiliar and familiar at the same time.
Friday evening, I further revisited my youth by going back to my old high school, where it was not only Homecoming, but also the 25th reunion of my high school class. As I made the turn onto the school property, I felt like it was senior year again and I was hustling to get in before the first bell rang.
Luckily, however, I was not nearly late for Physics, but instead on time for my high school reunion, an event that can either be great fun or a source of great angst, depending on your perspective. Personally, I had an amazing time. While I wasn’t part of the cool crowd back in the day, I also wasn’t bullied or picked on, so my high school years were good ones overall. I was a wee bit nervous walking into the crowd at first, but everyone who showed up was greeted like a conquering hero. Any cliques that existed back in the day had long since dissolved and any time I went up to someone new, no matter who it was, they’d envelop me in a great big hug. I talked more with some of the people from my class this weekend than the entire time we were in school together.
It’s interesting to be with people you haven’t seen in a quarter of a century. As you’re looking across the crowd, you’ll see someone who looks familiar and just as it is with my grandmother and the landmarks around my hometown, the younger version of that person who is still in your mind’s eye will compete with the older version in front of me and I would have a sort of double vision. Often, when I talked with someone, a memory from 25 or 30 or even 35 years ago would come rushing back. It could very well be something incredibly trivial and I marveled at all the things stored within my brain. It made me wonder what memories are being formed for my girls now that they will revisit in a quarter century’s time.
Being with my classmates reminded me that there is connection that we all share that comes from having spent so many formative years in the same place at the same time. Whether or not we had classes together or even knew each other back in the day, we all share the same basic memories that are specific to our era. We laughed at things that only we found funny. We understand each other in a way that people who came into our lives later never will.
So yes, like Thomas Wolfe wrote, I do believe that you can’t go home again permanently, but I do you think you can visit for a little while.