Monday, July 27, 2015

A Homeward Angel

Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.” ~ Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

When at age 23 I moved away for good from my hometown to live in Chicago, I secretly vowed that I would never go home again. That was, of course, impossible because my parents, my siblings and many of my friends were still there.  Visits were necessary and enjoyed but I did not want to live there anymore.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the town. I just felt like I needed to shake off old dust, explore new places and live a new life filled with new experiences. Now almost thirty years later I have found myself going back home quite frequently. My family and many of my friends all have moved on to other places too as they have started their own adventures, but because we are at an age when we start losing our parents, I have gone back home for funerals and weddings, and taken the time to stick around for awhile...revisiting. 

On one of my funeral visits I stopped by Frabbrinis, a flower shop where I used to buy a lot of corsages, presents and a lot of bouquets as apologies.  I was looking to find Lori. Lori and I have known each other since junior high school. One time when I was school president and Lori was secretary, she was involved in a senior food fight that got out of hand. She needed a clean set of clothes, so she cleaned up and wore my fresh gym suit around the rest of the day. That she was waering a shirt labeled 'Sharpe' raised some eyebrows but it was very funny. She and her best friend, Jane, used to borrow my Camaro and bring us all lunch in the student council office and occasionally margaritas.Unfortunately, Lori wasn't there because her dad was in the hospital not looking good. I talked to Jim, the owner, and bought her a flower. I knew I would be traveling and wouldn't be able to get back again for the funeral  I hope in some way it gave her some comfort and she knew her friend was thinking about her.

A very cherished friend of mine, Bridget, recently got married to a very nice boy, David, we knew in high school.  I thought this would be the time in my life when I would go to the weddings of children not friends but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Sometimes later in life love has the power to sneak through the door and hand you a gift you never expected.  The wedding was beautiful and I’m glad I got to attend.  My date was a girl, Kim, l I have known since I was 8, my first crush when I was in fifth grade, that I finally got up the nerve  to ask out. She is still a lovely girl, a great friend and we had a wonderful time catching up. A lot of our best friends and neighbors from childhood and high school were there. It was like a small reunion. The best thing was seeing Bridget and David so happy. The wedding was at a venue out in the country by Sycamore called the Chapel in the Pines. Perfect place for a wedding.

At night I don’t like to drive very far so after dropping my date off at her home, I stayed in my old town for the night.  It ended up being a couple of days. That first night I went into the local pub we all used to visit. My brother and my sister both worked there. It is called The Neighborhood Inn. I told the owner it was the first bar I had a "legal" drink in.  I remember the day my dad took me in to buy it for me and Jenny, the bartender, asked,"T.S, you want your usual?" ...Turned out the owner was a girl I knew a long time ago around that time, She and her husband bought it from the owners I knew, Jim and Judy. Small world.There's a much younger pierced and tattooed crowd there these days, but still a lot of fun to be in a place where we all spent a lot of time.

During the time in town I ate in the restaurant, Garibaldi’s, where me and the guys used to go and make a big basket of fries and a couple of Cokes (sometimes laced with Rum) last an hour. I went to the old Hoffman Bowling Lanes, where I used to meet up with a friend named Jim, a troubled but prodigy guitarist, who I did variety shows together with. I went to the golf course where my pal, Kevin, and I used to go at night, smoke cigarettes, lie on the hood of his car, playing 8-tracks of the Eagles and watch the planes fly into O’Hare. (Yes, as we got older, beer and  Screwdrivers were involved). I walked through the mall where  I got my first job working in a bookstore.   I made a lot of friends there that are still friends today and developed a lot of girlfriend romantic relationships. Bookstores may seem innocuous but they’re not.  A lot happens among the pages.

During all of my my visits I went to all of the ponds and parks near my old home. Highland Pond was where I learned to skate and play hockey; the Twin Ponds were where my dad taught me how to sail his little sailboat, and where I used to sit and write or draw.  I went to Cottonwood Park where we used to practice cross country until I hit a gully and blew my already bad knee out.  I went to the playground where I would meet my best friend, a girl I didn’t know that I was really in love with, but in time did. Almost asked that girl to marry me but it didn’t work out. She’s still my best friend.  I went to the place we all called "the field" where me and Mike, Tommy, Chris Kevin,and my sister, Melissa and her friends, used to play kickball and softball. When we were young it was  large vacant lot. Now it is called Field Park. 

When I was a kid we moved around a lot. My dad kept getting transferred a lot. We lived in seven places before I was thirteen. When we moved back t0 Chicagoland from Florida we lived in a nice but small place on Edgemont Lane. It had only one full bathroom; my sisters had their own rooms, but my brother and I shared a bunk bed in the basement rec room.  Later on we moved into a much bigger house on Rosedale Lane that allowed all of us to have our own rooms. It was while we were there that I made most of my best friends.  That was our last house for a long, long time (30 years) until my dad retired and sold it  

While I was back in town I made a point of visiting both of my old houses, as well as those of my friends where I used to hang out, talking, riding bikes, playing cards. I particularly wanted to check on something. I wanted to see if the tree at the Edgemont Lane house was still there. We planted it a long time ago in honor of one of our own who was physically battling a deathly illness. It is still there, strong, just like he still is forty plus years later. That made me smile.

The last thing I did on my last home journey was to sit in the church I was confirmed in. It is a Presbyterian church. It is a strange building that looks a lot like a dead crow lying on its back, but it was where I formed my faith, gained fellowship, and even more close friends that I will never lose. My father was a deacon there and my mother ran the Loaves and Fishes program.  It gave me strange comfort to sit in the old comfortable pews and say a prayer both for others I knew were struggling, those I wanted to be happy, and to ask for a little help for myself.  I’m not sure how much prayer works but it can’t hurt.

The great author, Thomas Wolfe was a cynic and a skeptic, but I love his works. He often contradicts himself, but his writing is poetry. In a book he wrote, called Look Homeward Angel he talks about human experience. He says “Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years.” Don’t know if he got his math right and I really don’t care.  I think the point is that is that you are the sum of history and your own personal experiences.  He also said, “…a man who stands upon a hill above the town he had left, yet does not say ‘The town is near,' but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges.” It was fun to visit home again, especially to see the people who mattered the most in my life. I needed that if only to revisit some happy memories, which actually proves you can go home again, That being said Mr. Wolfe is right in some ways. It's time to look at new soaring ranges without losing the past while I'm gaining the future. You may not be able to go "home" again" but it's not a bad thing to visit once and awhile.