Author Thomas Wolfe lamented it in his 1940 best selling novel, YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN. Everyone over the age of eighteen has experienced it, that small twinge of distance when you return home.
For many years, I made my home in Oklahoma City and then one day I didn’t. I moved to Colorado where mountains replace the long Oklahoma vistas, and it snows up there sometimes. A recent visit back to Oklahoma City spurred my thinking toward the microscopic changes that happen each day, visible only if you haven’t looked lately.
Each journey changes a person. Each new place brings the traveler into contact with different people, different cultures, different ideas. The traveler is shaped by these forces just as the person who stays at home is shaped by the peaceful routine of their days. When the traveler and the homebody meet again, each has changed but not in the same way. The home they left yesterday will be different today and even more different tomorrow.
Thomas Clayton Wolfe wrote about this dislocation, this ever widening gap between what was, before and what is, now. On our visit “home” to Oklahoma City, I found changes all around. The grocery store on the corner of Pennsylvania and 39th Street is gone. A Good Will thrift store is in the building. New buildings crowded Classen Boulevard, sprouted in Bricktown, and blossomed in Midtown, changing my memories of the town. The area around the Civic Center is almost unrecognizable. The old elevated I-40 is gone, making way for a broad boulevard.
Wolfe’s name is not mentioned much today. That’s not unusual. He’s a part of the past. He was born in 1900 and died in 1938, cutting short a major career. We’ve survived several generations and multiple wars since he lived and wrote. In his very short life, however, he wrote four major novels, and many other manuscripts and plays. A movie about his editor Max Perkins, GENIUS, is scheduled to be released this year, starring among others, Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe.
So what do I take home with me to Colorado from this trip? I liked living in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has been good to me in many ways. But that was yesterday. Today my home is in the Wet Mountain Valley. As time passes between this visit to Oklahoma City and my next, subtle forces will be at work on me as well as on the friends I’ve left behind.
You can’t truly go home again to the way things were in the past. But you can return for visits and celebrate the changes that you find mixed in with your memories.