Slightly Off Center
—by Dennis Hinkamp
I have a lot of reasons not to go home again. At age 12 I was robbed at knifepoint in the mid-afternoon at the baseball stadium. I got caught in the middle of a knives-and-baseball bats racially motivated fight with an opposing baseball team in my teens. More recently I had to go back for a series of funerals. Let’s just say I am ambivalent about the place I grew up. I won’t name names or impede tourism but it is the city with the major league baseball team that features the state bird perched on a bat; that, and a giant steel croquet wicket fronting the Mississippi river.
So why not face a little more pain and head back for my 40th high school reunion, attend a baseball game and do a little gravesite surfing with remaining relatives? Sometimes you need to multitask when facing your fears.
You Can’t Go Home Again has become a cliché that has some truth to it but you must remember this was just a novel written by Thomas Wolfe in the 1930s. There were a lot fewer homes to go back to and a lot less technology and prescription drugs available to help you through the process. Here are all the going-home-again tips that you won’t find on TripAdvisor, Yelp or any of the other click magnet Internet sites.
Let technology be your co-pilot. Don’t start any sentimental journey without a fully loaded GPS-enabled smart phone with voice-directed turn-by-turn maps. Why? Because your rose-colored glasses and foggy memory don’t include all the new construction, destruction and urban renewal that has taken place since you left. I am also used to having mountains to define east and west; when I return to the Midwest, I’m completely directionless unless it happens to be near sunrise or sunset. As a side note: I believe GPS phones have saved many marriages and relationships. They save men the embarrassment of asking for directions and reduce the stress of whoever is stuck in the passenger seat trying to play Magellan in the uncharted waters of a new urban ocean.
There are no lifeguards on duty at the nostalgia pool. The shallow end of the pool is cool, safe and refreshing but the pool bottom slopes downward to the deep end, which is treacherous and populated by leeches and dragons. The reason that most high school reunions are held for only a couple hours every 10 years is because that is the time limit on how much conversation you can have with people you haven’t been close to for 40 years. Given more time and intoxicants you likely would be foundering in the deep end of memory best reserved for 18th century Russian angst novels or French cinema. Brief faded memory is what perpetuates humanity and our American hybrid vigor.
Seek pleasant diversions. You need a little time to eddy out when you are boating down the turbulent memory river. My favorite travel pastime of late has been visiting vintage clothing and consignment stores. It simultaneously reminds me of the horror of my younger clothing choices and the added horror that I did not save them long enough to sell them at a premium.
What was my score for the trip? Four stars for the baseball team winning and me not getting mugged; 27 out of 172 of my class of 1974 arrived mostly happy and healthy; I found the location of four relatives buried in the military cemetery; and I came home with three vintage shirts totaling only $56 for what probably cost $3.50 new in 1972. I’m looking forward to, though not counting on, being around for the 50th reunion.
Dennis Hinkamp suggests that everyone occasionally go at least ankle deep in nostalgia.