Monday, March 11, 2013

Going Home Again

You Can’t go Home Again according to Thomas Wolfe. That has always haunted me. Writers are supposed to have tragic childhoods. The scars are so useful.

My childhood was magical. I lived on a ranch along the Blackfoot River. Not Norman Maclean’s Blackfoot River, the one everyone has heard of.  This was my own private river, winding through a valley that was half real and half imagination.  

When I was eight or nine my mother would make me a Wonder Bread sandwich, stuff it in a little backpack along with an apple and set me free to wander the valley. My dog and I would visit the Indian writing, as we called the pictographs at the upper end of the valley, or the Jungle, or the lava cliffs, or the river. Wherever we went it was the setting for the movie in my mind. A tree that had fallen across a gully became an airplane. The windbreak strawstack was a train in a Western. The barn roof was the Matterhorn. 

My magical world included a fish pond across which we poled a skiff chasing frogs and Finn.
All childhoods end, and this one did abruptly with the death of my father a few days after my eleventh birthday. We left the ranch, a place so essential that we had never named. It was always just The Place.
And still it is. Wolfe was right about the going home. The physical place is still there, but The Place I inhabited is gone. And not gone.

What Wolfe might have known, but never did say, is you can never leave it. That Place you inhabited as a child, good or bad, lives with you forever. If you are lucky, as I am, you can visit it anytime and draw from its slaking well whenever you have that special thirst.

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