Thomas Wolfe Is Always Right

A few weeks back I was out on a drive with my son, burning time with no destination, and I subconsciously pointed us in the direction of my mom and dad’s old house. My brother, sister and I grew up there from 1965 through the mid-80s, and my folks finally moved out in ’97. Dad passed on 10 years later. I’ve been back a dozen times since my folks moved out, but this time it seemed different.

It was evening and already dark when we pulled up in front. At the time that these spacious homes were built the neighborhood was perched on the edge of several orange groves and strands of gigantic eucalyptus trees, but inside the neighborhood you’d never know it. The huge, hulking homes were all painted dazzling white. The slumpstone block wall, enclosing the neighborhood as though it were a fortress, was also painted white with silver sparkles. On the ever-creeping edge of suburbia, our neighborhood was an alien, an interloper, and was impressive in a way that paid no homage to ranch style living. It would never fly today, but in the 1960s the pretentiousness of the name “Meredith Acres” suited the up-and-coming defense industry executive perfectly.

But that was the 1960s and things around the neighborhood have changed. My dad was aghast at the way the new owners so quickly countrified the place with picket fences and gnomes and all forms of bric-a-brac. Nonetheless, our old home was plainly visible through the new decor. My son idled the car in front as I sat there in silence, drinking it in. There was something about my dad being gone that made it resonate more, but I looked at that front door with the big quartz rock wall, the steps going up to the front door, the wall of windows and the mature white birch trees and it just got to me. I felt like I was savoring a steak — you want to close your eyes and deny yourself any other sense but exactly the one necessary to take it in. I was in a loop, feeling a memory, conjuring up images, feeling another memory, conjuring up more images, feeling another memory. . .

I could see myself lurking around, long haired, maybe listening to Bowie or Iggy in the garage, my dad tending to the lawn that he was so proud of, my little brother pulling wheelies on his red Schwinn Sting Ray; feeling all of it at once and at the same time thinking of nothing at all specific.

I don’t want to go back — no thanks — but I do treasure the things that I remember. Of course there were good times and there were bad times, but as I age it seems as though the bad stuff is bleaching away into a shade that is much brighter than I originally experienced it. And as for my dad and my mom and our old home, Thomas Wolfe was right.

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