Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again.

On the road toward the home I used to have.
On the road toward the home I used to have.

THOMAS WOLFE was wrong.

He said you can’t go home again.

I ignored him.

I went home again.

It was just a little farmhouse on a narrow oil road crossing the hills between Jacob’s Community and New London.

We moved in when I started the second grade.

We moved out when I started high school.

I walked the summers barefoot on the oil road, and my feet would be coated thick with black oil by the time school started.

It would be Christmas before the last stain had been scrubbed clean.

My father didn’t want to leave the farm.

I didn’t want to leave.

My mother cried when we left

We sold the house and the twenty-two acres surrounding it and headed up the road ten miles to Kilgore.

Why?

We needed a telephone.

No telephone lines ran to the farmhouse.

The only phone was in Wyche’s Grocery Store, sitting alongside Highway 259, a half mile away.

Have an emergency?

Need to get in contact with us?

Call Mr. Wyche, and he would drive down the little oil road and deliver the news, usually bad.

No one called unless someone died.

No one called very often.

Unfortunately, my father’s new job required him to have a telephone.

He was on call twenty-four hours a day.

So we moved to the big city.

Ten thousand people.

Ten million miles of telephone wires.

At least that’s what it seemed to me.

My fondest memories of the farm all spilled into the big ditch.

When you’re in the second grade, it looked a little like the Grand Canyon.

It was wide.

It was deep.

It seemed to go forever, snaking its way back among the pines to the creek bordering the southern end of our property.

We had rock fights in the big ditch.

We had BB gun fights.

We fought renegades.

We fought Nazis.

We fought the Japanese.

We never lost a war in the big ditch.

And we fought a lot of wars.

I drove back not long ago.

My mother and father have both left me.

All I have of those days are memories, and most of them are about the farm and the big ditch.

I hadn’t seen it for a long time.

Wyche’s Grocery Store was empty.

It looked as though it had been shut down and boarded up a long time ago.

The oil road was paved.

Our old house was there – although it sat a lot closer to the road than it once did.

They took the yard when they widened the road.

The stock pond was almost dry.

The creek had more mud than water.

The field where we grew corn was thick with weeds.

The garden had more bull nettle than tomatoes.

In fact, it didn’t have any tomatoes at all.

The pastures were empty.

No horses.

No cattle.

The barbs on the wire were clogged with rust.

I walked the fence line to the big ditch.

All my memories lay hidden or buried in the big ditch.

On that summer morning, it looked as though it had been dug by a rusty spoon.

It was two feet deep.

And I could step across from one side to the other.

I had lost it all.

Life in the fifties would never be the same again.

The earth moving machines had attacked.

The last battle had been lost.

They had taken my ditch away.

I sighed.

I was wrong.

Thomas Wolfe was right after all.

You can’t go home again.

Home’s not there anymore.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Night Side of Dark. 

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  • My sympathies, Caleb. The house I grew up in has belonged to other families for a long time now. My parents’ house is up for sale since my Dad died, and they took Mother to live in her own little apartment on my sister’s property.

    I refuse to go by the corner in Mexico City where my grandparents’ house used to sit – when Mamina died, my mother and her sisters eventually sold the piece of real estate to a developer who put a tower of condominiums on it, and I don’t want anything tarnishing those memories. My mother probably remembered it from when the house was built and she was a little girl and they were surrounded by cornfields.

    Things change, people grow up. Keep the good memories – forget what you saw when you went back: this is now. The good parts were then. Remember then.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Well said, Alicia. Yesterday belongs only to yesterday.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Homes are best left alongside the road in your memories. Nothing has changed, and it never will.

  • jack43

    My “home” is Baltimore. Would anyone really want to go there now?

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I loved Baltimore. I was stationed at Baltimore. The waterfront was wonderful. And it’s so sad to see what has happened. Neglect will ruin a civilization.

  • Don Newbury

    Returning, however, helps to tap the brakes on memories and sharpen the focus on the way things really were. The aisle I walked as a nine-year-old Methodist youth seemed half a football field to the waiting minister. I stepped it off as an adult, and it was about four steps.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don, walking half a football field makes a better story. What we remember is far more fascinating than what is.

  • Darlene Jones

    Exactly why I don’t go back or go to reunions.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You are a smart lady, Darlene.

  • Christina Carson

    Nor are we. That person is as long gone too. It is such a temptation, but one I’ve finally learned to resist. I captured one lost home in short stories that I do not edit. It helps me remember who I was then and that yields a healthful perspective now.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Christina, the way we were then is why we are the way we are today.

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