Thomas Wolfe famously said that you can’t go home again. I used to agree with him. But now I’m not so sure. I’ve had an astonishing change of heart recently about the community where I was born that I was so desperate to leave three decades ago I practically ran to the town line.
Over the last few years, though, as life has led me there for longer periods of time, I find I’m ready to reclaim the history and make the memories my own again.
The truth is, I just never liked my town. Not because it wasn’t beautiful. Or friendly. Or historic. It had those good qualities and many other New Englandy perks that people love. Paul Revere lived and worked there for a time, along with a framer or two of the Constitution.
It was even the home in 1770 of the guy who advertized the first cure for a rattlesnake bite, although the town fathers at the time prefaced that historical account with a disclaimer.
I dreaded my town. Having high-profile family members was like living under a microscope. And it was so close-knit that the time I skipped church with a friend in favor of a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, my own father drove by and bagged us. All I wanted was to be anonymous. After I was shipped off to high school in another town, any ties I had remaining just sort of faded away and I got my wish.
But time, I am finding, is kind to the past. As it marches on, I’m able to see my early experiences there as just more of the things that have helped to make me who I am today. I can set aside any memories that still haunt me with all the other old things I no longer need.
My family is gone from the town now, which is strange enough in itself, and I rarely see anyone I know when I visit. But the spirits of my life are still there, in names on stones in cemeteries, and recollections of who lived where, and did what, for those who are still living.
Somehow, I’m finding, those memories that fly up to embrace me as I drive the shady, centuries-old streets have begun to serve as a salve, as wounds begin to heal, instead of the curse I ran from.