In 1940, the novel You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe was published posthumously. The phrase is taken from the denouement of the novel in which the main character, George Webber realizes “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
You can’t go home again has become a phrase in America to mean that once a person has left their country town or backwater city for a metropolis, then that person can never go back to the way of life they once had. Sometimes, the phrase is taken to mean one can’t return home without being deemed a failure.
What if you grew up in a metropolis? What if you left it for a smaller city, and then an even smaller one? What if, like my husband and I, you decide to return to the place of your childhood after a twelve-year absence? A place big to start with and a place that has grown by leaps and bounds during your absence.
Two months ago while sitting on a restaurant patio, my husband looked at me and uttered, “We have to get out of this f***ing state.” The words were a wave of hope. We moved to West Virginia for his work and the promotion and financial opportunity it gave us. Let me be clear, on those points we still feel the move was worth it. His advancement allowed me to work a little less, which I am eternally grateful for. I tried to like our new surroundings. Could I have tried harder? Sure. Lots, even. But I didn’t particularly want to move, and though extremely selfish, I wasn’t about to try my best.
Having lived in that culture shock for 15 months, I firmly believe mountain people, like people who live in desert climates, are an entirely separate sort of folk. A few weeks after we moved there, I was conversing with my manager at work, a fellow KY transplant, and I mentioned how I missed Ale-8 drinks and Grippos chips. A customer overheard and said, “This ain’t Ashland.” To which I replied, “No, it ain’t.” Ashland, KY is a small (smaaaaaaal) town in KY, just across the border of WV, and still a good ways from my beloved Lexington or Louisville, and I had no wish to go there either, even for Ale-8.
I was sad and jealous when a friend I made at work left to return to her home in Ohio. She and her husband lived in WV for less than a year. My husband’s boss and his family also returned to their Ohio roots. It seemed everyone who wanted out of the state was getting out. A few of my co-workers, natives of WV, said the state was nothing like it used to be, especially in the ‘urban’ areas. Urban for WV is less hills, where the land can support some stretches of commercialism. I saw firsthand the people coming in to buy Pseudoephedrine. After awhile, you get tired of hearing the same stories of ‘Why can’t I buy it, why are there limits, my doctor said to get this one’ blah, blah, blah. If you’ve never worked in a pharmacy, then you won’t know a legitimate decongestant sale from the ones who only want it for making meth. I got to experience the carload of people coming in, one after another, for the exact same product. Believe me, five customers in a row wanting to purchase the same Allegra-D product will never be a coincidence. I saw the unemployment of the areas I lived in. I’m not making a pro or anti-government statement here, because many of the people I encountered that did not work were not even on welfare. They just didn’t get jobs, or hadn’t worked in over a year. I was floored during the summer when I saw Clothing Voucher signs at any store selling clothing for back to school. I’d never seen that in KY, especially not at a Target or Khols.
I was sad to leave co-workers, as was my husband. He genuinely likes his job and the people he works with. I will miss the almost daily fog. Fog and mist are rare things in downtown Louisville, KY. Nestled in the Ohio valley, the city gets to avoid things like fog and most tornadoes. The first time I saw deer in the parking lot of our apartment complex was early in the morning. The sun was rising and the lot was filled with mist and three deer cantered down the hill some ten feet in front of me. I’ll miss seeing them standing five feet away from our back porch, eating on corn one of the neighbors threw out for them. I will Not miss them leaping out of the brush and running across the road in front of my car, as that’s something I hope never to experience again. We will miss the wine aisle in Kroger and Target. Stores in WV don’t have the separate entrance liquor areas like in KY, so that was nice and convenient. 🙂 I’ll miss the views of the mountains, and that’s pretty much it.
When my husband interviewed for a position in KY with his company, we found out on Nov. 3 that he got the job. On Nov. 5, they called and wanted him to start the following week. Moving with one week’s notice, during which time we both worked, made for a stressful and frazzling week. Thankfully, I had started to lazily pack a couple of months prior, so we did not have the entire apartment to worry about. My husband told me to take a couple of weeks off work if I wished once we moved. No arm twisting needed there.
We moved into my grandmother’s house. I haven’t been this relaxed in over a year, and knowing there is no one above, below, or attached to the side of us is super-duper. I was peeling wallpaper and realized I could turn my music up a teeny bit more if I wanted. There’s no one to bother, and that is a great feeling.