Friday, April 15, 2011

Going Home Again

There's an old saying that goes, "you can't go home again." Not true. Well, not exactly. Of course, you can go home - to the place you grew up, to see the people who populated your world. I mean, unless your face is on a wanted poster on the wall at the post office, or the city of your birth met with some catastrophic event that wiped it from the map, chances are good that you can return to the physical place where you were born and raised.

The problem is that nothing and no one will be as you remember them. They've changed.

And so have you.

I've just returned from such a trip. My family and I left the warm sunshine of Florida and made the trek into the blustery northeast to see relatives in New Jersey. I needed to go - I hadn't seen my three elderly aunts in years. Two are in their mid-to-upper eighties, the third is ninety-one. My mother's sisters, they still live together in the house in which they were born and lived all their lives.

They are the single exception to the rule and have not changed an iota in the intervening years. Not a wrinkle among them (somehow, I was sadly shorted that familial gene). Their smiles made the trip worthwhile.

I cannot say the same about the area in which I grew up. It was an odd feeling, going home again. Have you ever seen the episode of The Twilight Zone where the scientist goes back into the past and changes the future? He didn't change it completely, but just enough to make things...not right. That's what it seemed like to me.

Many things looked the way I remembered them, but strangely different at the same time. In the old neighborhood, many of the homes I remembered were torn down to make way for monstrous Mc-houses. These cookie-cutter mansions were strewn side-by-side among much more venerable, humble homes like gaudy, paste rhinestones set alongside tiny, precious gems. They seemed cold and out-of-place.

Most of the smaller stores and boutiques I remembered, the family-run businesses, were gone, replaced by Walmarts and convenience stores. Oh, there were landmarks aplenty that I remembered, for instance, the three Catholic churches that were the cornerstones of the community in this deeply religious, Old-World Italian neighborhood, but two of the schools were closed, the buildings rented out.

The faces on the street were different, too. Strangers now lived in homes that belonged to people my family knew for generations.

Many of the neighborhood traditions are gone now. I remember that every year on the Feast of St. Ciro, parishioners (most of whom spoke Italian and little English) from our church would march in a mile-long procession that led from the church, through the streets, and back again - many of them walking in their bare feet as a sign of devotion. They carried banners with images of the saint on them, to which people would pin dollar bills. They also carried a litter bearing a statue of the saint through the streets, and a three-piece band would play unrecognizable hymns.

I find it sad to think traditions like this one have disappeared. They were part (along with the people) of what made my hometown what it was - a unique and charming place.

You can go home again, but chances are you'll return just a little sadder.

No comments:

Post a Comment