Monday, May 10, 2010

Going Home

You can go back, but it’s never the same.

I spent the first ten years of my life in a small house in Smyrna, Georgia. After that, my mother moved us to Texas and I’ve been here since. My father lived in that house for many years afterward. I went back inside once or twice, the last time years ago when my next older sister and I went out there to take care of my father. After we got him out of the hospital, we arranged for him to come to Texas to live near us.

At that time, I was an adult looking back at her childhood home. I was floored by how different it looked through grown up eyes. I knew the house was small, but now I realized it was really small. As a child, I had taken it for granted. As an adult, I admired that Dad had built by hand part of it, and how small it must have been before he added on that part.

When I was very young, my mother didn’t sit me or my sisters down in front of the TV. We were sent outside to play in the woods next to our home. I remember running through the trees, entertaining myself, for hours. And yet, when I went back, I saw how small and sparse those “woods” were. At the time, they had been, in my eyes, huge – a forest to play in. Knowing they weren’t didn’t alter my memories or emotions, but it did show me how perspective changes as we age.

I wrote about those woods and that house, letting them be seen through the eyes of a young girl, then showing the change in perspective when the girl returned home as a woman.

On a more recent cross-the-south trip my husband and I took, I re-visited that house. The changes this time around were even bigger – and final.

My husband and I were in South Carolina and the next day we were scheduled to fly out of Atlanta. Try as we might, we couldn’t get back to Atlanta before dark. Smyrna had changed so radically, we ended up having to get a map just to find the area. Once we got close, though, I easily directed him where to turn. That surprised me since it had been so long since my last visit and I had been very young when I actually lived there.

We turned up the street and there was the little house. Except it wasn’t the little house I lived in. The last time I’d seen it, my father still lived there so it was as I remembered it. Now other people lived there. Even the street number had changed.

Because the new people had lights on, I could see the changes. It looked like they’d done some remodeling, enlarging it a little on the side that Dad had added on. The giant holly bush was gone. The driveway had been paved. Siding was up.

The woods were still there. No one had built in that area. I wondered why not, but was glad to see them still there. The area behind my old house, where there used to be a drive-in theatre, looked dark. The rest of the neighborhood seemed welcoming. Still small houses, but well-kept. Before getting there, I half-expected to see bigger homes, the area gentrified or McSized. It’s probably coming.

We sat in the car in front of the house for a while, then I directed him to my old elementary school, about a mile from the house. It, too, had changed. No longer a small building; it was now a complex. I doubt kids still walk to school as we did. That quiet road is now a fast-moving thoroughfare.

It was very different seeing it this time – this last time, I expect. Before that, when we went to get my father, it was still my home. Now it’s someone else’s home. It’s been altered physically, not just by the passing of time and maturation of the child.

It’s something to remember when you’re writing a scene where a person goes home again. Things change not just with time and alterations, but because of perspective, emotions and attachment people and characters have toward the “thing.”

You can go back. But it’s not back to your past. It’s back to someone else’s future. 
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  1. Great article... and how true. Time changes cities, towns, and villages, but not quite so much as it changes us.

  2. Yepp. That's just the way it is.

    I moved away from my home town 25 years ago (two week after finishing high school). When I go back to visit from time to time, it's not the same place anymore. Not at all >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  3. I love that last line. It says it all.
    May I put it with my favorite quotes?
    Giggles and Guns

  4. "You can't go home again." Love Thomas Wolfe!

    When I see old childhood haunts, it just seems to make me sad.

    Good point on changing perspective, too.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  5. "’s not back to your past. It’s back to someone else’s future."

    I love that - you should use that in a book sometime. I know exactly what you mean. I grew up in a small northern town in Michigan, Traverse City, and when I go back it's all metropolitan now with sprawling malls, heavy traffic, burgeoning sub-divisions ... totally not what I recall from childhood.

    The Old Silly

  6. It's bittersweet, isn't it?

    And different people will react differently too.

    When my husband and I went back to our childhood homes in Chicago, it was harder for him to let go.

    Me, I shrugged it off. It wasn't home anymore. It was simply one of my stopping points along the way.

  7. Great post that says so much. Sometimes I think we forget how much our perspective changes as we get older. It changes as we do so it's natural.

    Thoughts in Progress

  8. I'm sure Smyrna has changed immensely - Atlanta has exploded in recent years.

  9. What a good thought to keep in mind, that it's not just the property, or house, or town that changes over the years. Our own perspective, and wisdom and experiences shine on the past, casting a different light on it as the years pass by.

  10. That struck a chord!
    The original house I grew up in still sits on my mom's property, but a newer house resides behind it - and the old one is just storage. The last two times I'm been back to Oregon, I didn't even go inside, and it would be hard to see it in such a state of disrepair.

  11. I returned to the university I attended over 30 years ago. Those inviting pathways, the familiar buildings were still there, but so much more had changed. You're so right about emotional attachments changing with time. There are many subtle factors at work a writer should keep in mind.

  12. "’s not back to your past. It’s back to someone else’s future."

    I agree with Marvin. This would make a great line, also a good tweet.

    When I went home to NZ some places I shouldn't have visited and left them as memories. I didn't know how to feel. I was empty. The memory was crushed or skewed. Cool post Helen.

    Its midnight here. I've been rewriting the wip for 12 hours today. It maybe because I'm tired, but your post made me a little emotional.

    Take care, Simon.

  13. Hmmm, Helen, this shows me we have a potential memoir writer in our midst. This is exquisite.

  14. We moved so much when I was a kid. None of the houses ever felt like home. It must be a unique feeling.

  15. Helen, what a wonderful blog on perpective. So true too. Before my son was born, and we lived on the West Coast, I went to Eugene, OR and took my husband to see the school I spent 5th grade in. (We moved quite a bit when I was growing up, first as a military family and then for construction jobs) I remembered it so much larger than it was. As I walked to the tether ball courts, I was amazed at how small those poles were whereas, in my memory they seemed so much taller.

    Perspective is so important. I enjoyed your article, observations, and the practical application of perspective. :-)

  16. So poignant. I can relate and appreciate your thoughts here, Helen; I've been spending much time at my childhood home of late. Home has grown into something new.

  17. How true. My home town seems like a time and place from another era. Completely different. I feel like a stranger in a strange land. But hey, the new perspective gives me ideas to write a new book. But that's a story for another day..

    Stephen Tremp

  18. What a fascinating perspective – and how true it is. I remember my perception of my 'home' changed during the short trips I made back there as my parents aged.

  19. Helen, this is so good. Not only a little glimpse of you, but also how to handle this in writing. Thanks so much for sharing.

  20. I love how you've written this Helen. My brother lives in the house I grew up in. I see it often, but it doesn't "feel" the same...something to write are correct.

  21. Sure Maribeth.

    Forgive typos-I'm sitting in a plane. And phone is pinging that it's almost dead.

  22. So true! It's a hard thing to see, because you feel happy to be "home", but sad for what's changed.

  23. I live in the same house I grew up in. We've done a lot to it, went from two to three stories, built a garage, landscaping. I sometimes wonder what it feels like for my bother and sisters when then come by for a visit.

    Beautifully written, Helen.

  24. I'm back home! With phone recharging and computer plugged in. I'm plugged in as well. Thank you all for stopping by. I'm glad you liked the post.

  25. Wonderful story, Helen. I had to laugh when you mentioned the woods that were not as large as what you remembered from your childhood. I had a similar experience when I wanted to show my kids the "canyon" I played in with my brother in West Virginia when we were kids.

    And my grandmother's house had changed so much with new people living in it, I hardly recognized it. I guess this is pretty standard for most of us.

  26. So very, very true Helen. I still live in the same town and walk by my childhood home fairly often. It has changed enormously. It seems to have shrunk. Every time I walk by I'm tempted to knock and ask for a tour. But I know I'd be leery if it happened at my house, so I never do. Guess I'm stuck with the memories only :)

  27. Great points about the perspective of childhood and how it all looks different from an adult's eyes.
    My brother and I also had a patch of woods we played in and now when I see it I realize it was little more than a larger than average treeline between two farms.

  28. For me, it's both wonderful and a bit sad. I have vivid and great memories, although they will fade over time. But someone else will build their own memories.

    I try to remember this lesson when I write.

  29. It's hard to go back. I did that one year when I was in London. The beautiful brick Victorian house we had lived in is now plastered in white with a big satellite dish on the front. My dad's lovely garden is now a concrete parking area. My old school is a shopping center and the church where my mum and dad were married was pulled down and is now council flats (government housing). Hang on to the lovely memories of playing in your little area of the hundred acre wood.
    Ann Summerville
    Cozy In Texas

  30. What a lovely memory post. I do so approve of the town name, anything with SMY in it, I approve of, lol.

    Before we emigrated, a weekend was spent travelling around old haunts and homes. We ended the journey outside our first married home. I wanted to look inside, to walk into the room where our first born had lay in his cot. To see the nursery that became the room for our girls.
    I closed my eyes and my babies played in the yard again.
    Emotions and old homes, they sure do bring on the memories...and tears.

  31. Loved the whole post, but especially that last line.

    I went back to my elementary school about ten years ago. It now houses administrative offices for a toxic waste disposal group. There has to be something there that I can work into a story at some point.


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