In the novel You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote of how difficult it is to return to a life you knew when you were younger in the place where your childhood took place, especially if you have contributed to the atmosphere of change in that place. Adult eyes see things that a child’s eyes never can. Buildings are bigger, streets are narrower, and the people you once knew so well have changed also.
On a recent visit to my home town, I pulled into the yard of my brother and his first words to me were “Welcome home.” Beginning next week, I am returning home. I have accepted a new position as the City Administrator for my hometown of Comanche, Texas.
As I drive through the city now, the hometown I grew up in seems to have shrunk to a much smaller version of what I remember. My grandmother and grandfather’s house that once seemed like a mansion on a hill, is in reality a tiny, two bedroom structure sitting on top of a rise on the northeast side of town.
I used to roll bois d’ arc apples down the hill right beside it as a past time. That road once seemed a mile or more long and again, in reality, its span is only a half a block. I also chased horned toads in their backyard.
But this new venture is actually taking me full circle. I began my working life in that town. I spent time unloading trucks, putting out fresh produce, and stocking the shelves of a long-gone grocery store and in its place is a new, modern convenience store with eight or ten gas pumps. And there isn’t a sign of the old grocery around.
I also ran the projectors for the Majestic Theater that was razed by a fire years and years ago. It was an old Austin Limestone structure that barely held 50–60 people, but in the eye of my youth, it was a grand theater with hundreds and hundreds of seats.
Even though I realize I am not returning to the town I knew then, I am returning to the place of my roots. I went all through school and graduated there. I learned to drive an old 1967 Chevrolet pickup with a “three on the tree” that was missing first gear.
I learned the finer points of courtesy from my mother and my grandmother, the family matriarch that introduced me to church and to the deliciousness of a frosty Dr Pepper float. She would be waiting for me every afternoon with that float in her hand as I walked up that same little rise from the elementary school just across the street.
I recall her blue and white calico dress, neatly adorned with her frilly apron and her clunky shoes with big heels and her hair neatly pinned up in a bun on top of her head. It’s amazing at the things we remember from 45 years ago and how easily it is to forget what you had for supper the night before.
With every new position that I was fortunate to have received throughout my life, the responsibility and importance rose too. And with this new position of running a city, the responsibility is of vast importance. Thousands of people are counting on me to keep their little hamlet running smoothly. The Council and the Mayor have placed great trust in their selection of me as they welcome back a wayward son that left so long ago.
Even though the town is small, the lifestyle is laid back and the people are friendly and outgoing, I am beginning to feel the raw emotion of nerves because of the level of responsibility that has been bestowed upon me. If I fail, I not only let my family and friends down, but I will also let down the little town that had such a big impact on me in my youth.
Yes, it’s true, I won’t be able to go back to the home I knew long go, its small, distant memory somewhere in the back of my mind. But I can arrive and walk hand in hand with those memories and hope those still living there will walk with me. It’s still a fantastic town and with a bit of luck and hard work, I may complete my working circle embraced in its continuous charm.
It’s good to be home, even if it’s not the one I left.