Three Reasons You CAN Go Home Again and One Reason Not To

Thomas Wolfe’s famous 1940 novel argues that You Can’t Go Home Again. But I found some great reasons to go home again!

 

Reason One: Back to weather that your body remembers.

 

girl in rain     I was born in a small coal-mining town near Pittsburgh, but I have lived through thirty-four summers of the surreal heat of Phoenix.  Last week, driving around in an afternoon temp of 118, I was afraid my ear wax was starting to melt  and trickle out of my ear like liquefied butter. (Actually, I think it was just sweat, but the ear wax theory did give me pause!)  Pittsburgh summers can be hot and humid, but during my visit there last week, it was unseasonably cool and often rainy…not the dramatic, sometimes-frighteningly intense  Phoenix monsoon rain, but light, lovely rain with comfortingly low, rumbling thunder going on for hours. In the middle of crossing a street, I lowered my umbrella and raised my face to the sky and yelled with delight, “It is FUCKING RAINING!” Women huddled under their umbrellas looked at me a bit fearfully, and my friend Marnie  called out to them in reassurance, “ She’s fine! She’s just been living in a different place.”

Reason Two: Back to memories you grew up with.

Kaufmann clock     For many years, the department store Kaufmann’s sprawled a few city blocks in downtown Pittsburgh. At one corner, high up on the building, stood “the Kaufmann’s Clock” –a large, opalescent moon with old-fashioned numbers. When I was a little girl, I remember my very fashionable mother shopping there, me timidly tagging after her, and then meeting my father “Under the Clock.”  If it was December, my mother and I  admired the beautiful animated Christmas displays in the huge windows before meeting Daddy Under the Clock. In the basement of the store was an eatery “The Tic-Toc Room.”  When I shared a grilled cheese sandwich with my mother there, my mom being in an elevated mood after some good purchases, I felt less intimidated by her than usual and more hopeful that someday I would be a pretty lady like her. Kaufmann’s was where I got my first summer job, and I always chose to enter by merging with the throngs through the door Under the Clock than any of the other, closer entrances. Well, in my visit last week, as my friend Anna drove us on a midnight tour of the city, I  discovered that Macy’s had bought Kaufmann’s, and Macy’s name was scrolled  over the store’s many awnings.   But when I saw that Macy’s  had kept the ancient Kaufmann’s clock, glowing against the night, I couldn’t help but clap my hands together like a little kid…which for a moment I was.

Reason Three: Back to re-unite with old friends.  Best reason of all!

good friends are hard to find     I don’t even know why I had lost touch with four dear friends from Pittsburgh. I had no family left in Pittsburgh, so perhaps that was part of the gap.  Was it also because I was lazy, or because I was a frantic young mom, or just because I was self-absorbed with my new life in Phoenix? Did my friends fall out of contact with me because I had accidentally stirred up some hurt feelings?  I don’t know why, I don’t need to know why, and I don’t even want to know why. I only know I wanted it to be different. Social psychologists note that a healthy part of aging well is a “life review,” a re-visiting and an acceptance on a deep level of the good and the challenging parts of life and all the gifts you have received from your mixed experiences.  It seems to me, too, that women need sustenance from present and past relationships even more than men.  Edging into my sixties, I knew I desperately wanted contact with the women of Pittsburgh who had been so important to me in my young adult years. One of these women now lives in CA, and one in Amsterdam.  Three of my friends and I  were able to plan a rendez-vous in Pittsburgh this summer.  And so I got to indulge myself again in their wonderful humor, insight, wildness, gentleness, authenticity, and generousity.   For reasons I can’t even articulate, being  back in close contact with them has made me feel less afraid of the future and more whole.

And One Reason Not to: Little bumps into the past.

embarrassed pretty girl     Marnie has been happily married to Mark for about five years; Mark happens to be an old acquaintance from my Carnegie Mellon days.  Mark was always likable and handsome, but we were never a couple.  At a dinner in a lovely Pittsburgh restaurant, we all met again together. Lindsay, my friend from Amsterdam, had had an intense but harmless crush on Mark since college days, which I would never would have shared with Mark, but Lindsay – with her characteristic combination of naivite, hilarity, and embarrassment—did bring it up to him. Mark’s  beautiful, confident wife Marnie was not upset at all by my friend’s revelation, and laughed with Lindsay and Mark as they shared memories.  Then Mark remarked casually,” You know, Debra and I once made out together—“ I was so shocked that I suddenly spit out  the water I was drinking. I froze.  Lindsay offered helpfully, ““Well, maybe you were just drunk? ”  I shook my head no. I had honestly repressed what was—maybe — a five second kiss, a decade before I was to meet my husband and decades before Mark was to meet Marnie, but an event which I had never mentioned to Marnie. Had I done wrong not to disclose it? I forced my gaze up to meet her eyes, and she smiled, and I could see she was not fazed in the least. But I still couldn’t talk. Anna, eyes locked with mine in empathy, pushed a glass of wine towards me and gently advised:  “Take a big gulp.”  I did. And, within ten minutes, secure that none of my friends was upset with me, I was fine.

So, despite a few possibly unforeseen consequences, I most heartily believe that we CAN go home again!  Sometimes, if we are lucky, we can repair relationships. And, regardless, we can always send love to all the people who impacted our lives.  For all of us, I wish Happy Homecomings!

 

7 Comments

  1. Diane August 2, 2014 at 7:30 am .

    How lovely that you and your friends were able to make that reunion happen! And so interesting to get a glimpse into your racy Carnegie Mellon days. ;-)

    You shopping with your mom brought back warm memories of me with mine. Even though it was the same store, going back to where you had your first summer job is a whole separate emotional thing. And how cool is it to do a midnight tour of your Pittsburgh!

  2. Ramona August 2, 2014 at 7:34 am .

    Wonderful

  3. Nancy August 2, 2014 at 12:13 pm .

    What a beautiful blog…. And I am part of it!

  4. Bari Benjamin August 3, 2014 at 12:23 am .

    This may be one of my favorites! Your tribute to the importance of those lovely female friendships and your desire to maintain and nurture them brought tears to my eyes. What would we do without our girlfriends!
    A beautifully written blog. Thank you…

  5. Gail Ober August 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm .

    Once again, a great blog…nice to hear about times in your life!

  6. selma August 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm .

    Nice writing Debra – it gave me an insight into your personalty…as a much “older” woman (in years only) – I relate to what you said, shopping with mom at Macy’s Herald Square, seeing some old friends many years ago, before they were gone…yes it is true we are made up of our past experiences – I DO NOT WANT to see my oldest and fondest boyfriends…that I could not enjoy as the comparisonbetween young and old would be hard to take.
    Some memories have to stay hidden and you can’t go back again there.

  7. Pat August 5, 2014 at 10:48 pm .

    Oh, Debra! So eloquently written, as usual! Makes me homesick, in a good way! For us in Milwaukee, the big department store downtown was Gimbels. My mother was part of a group of women called the “Wednesday Club”. This was before malls were built in the suburbs. Once in a while, I was lucky enough to go with my mom on her shopping excursion downtown. We would then meet the Wednesday Club for lunch in the restaurant on one of the top floors of Gimbels. I am so glad my mother had this special group of friends! Thank you, Debra, for taking me back and I didn’t even have to buy a plane ticket!

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