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Thomas Wolfe Had It Goin' On

Updated on March 14, 2011

In his posthumously published 1940 novel, Thomas Wolfe said a mouthful with the title alone, “You Can’t Go Home Again”. This title has become a catch-phrase of American speech to illustrate that once you have left the nest and comforts of your home and hometown, you can’t return to those familiar haunts that served you so well in your youth. Attempts to regain the happiness of your past will almost always fail, usually miserably. To do so would be throwing yourself upon the mercy of family and old friends that may view you as a failure.

But what about your old friends in general? Physically going home and trying to recapture your youthful lifestyle 40 years past is one thing, but rekindling old friendships is quite another, or is it? If a pair of friends or a group of many friends all grew up together and watched and helped each other evolve, then the friendships would all grow and blossom together, right? (Okay, maybe not completely, but work with me here). At least there would be a steady history among all of the friends involved and each person would know the other’s history, and everyone would know where the other was coming from.

But what if there was a 40 year gap? What if two kids that were inseparable best friends in their youth were suddenly torn apart by an uncontrollable situation? They both grew up and developed at their own pace, began and lived their own lives with new and different influences that were completely different from each other, then suddenly, after 40 years, they were thrust back together again through the technology of social networking. At first, the feeling is awesome. Your long lost BFF has finally come full circle, only you are now 53 years old and he is still 13. How can you deal with that?

Through social networking, I have reconnected with many of my old high school chums and girlfriends. We have had a great time reminiscing, and rehashing old times. One girl I reconnected with lived in my neighborhood and we have known each other since kindergarten. 48 years! I think that is incredible. She has only moved about 25 miles from our old street, while I have gone 3,000.

But then there is “Jimmy” (not his real name), my BFF that lived next door. His parents moved away when we were 13, and then my parents moved when I was 16.  I never saw him again. I am not really sure what he has done with his life for the last 40 years, but as much as the rest of us have evolved, he seems to have not. He is still living with (and taking care of) his parents, has never married and seems consumed with the same childhood antics that we were both involved in 40 years ago.

I was elated when I finally heard from him. I would get email after email from him, with bits and pieces of info about his life, but nothing seemed different from the last time we spoke 4 decades ago. I would send him one email about what was going on in my life, and I would get 15 back from him of nothing but mindless gobbledygook. I actually felt sorry for him.

I ask myself now, what would have been different about Jimmy or me if neither one of us had never moved away? Would I be worse off and never would have evolved, or would he have been more successful?

I have always been the one afraid of being viewed as a failure. My mother always instilled in me that I was better than the next guy, and that I always will be (mother was a very proud and narrow minded woman. I am reasonably sure that she has turned over in her grave several times at the idea that I never did support her truths). But I have been reluctant to even try to “go home” because of the accomplishments of others resounding off of my mother’s voice echoing in my head.

“The accomplishments of others”, now there’s a catch phrase. I have taken a long time to learn that the accomplishments of others are not my problem. Maybe one of my old friends or cousins could be very accomplished in their career. Does it mean they’re happy? Not necessarily. They could be filthy rich (which seems to be the measure of success to some), yet extremely unhappy with their lives, or they could be dirt poor and feel completely fulfilled because the quality of their life is good.  

My oldest natural brother has lived his life under the credo “He who dies with the most toys wins”, and has consequently ruined many relationships, including five marriages, to get what he wants. When my dad became ill with cancer in early 1999, my brother took out a $2 million policy on dad, and told no one. Not even his wife. At payout, he banked it in another state, divorced his wife, left his kids and disappeared. I haven’t spoken to him since. I’m sure that his “quantity of life” is good, but he has to be missing some “quality”. In my book, he has accomplished nothing.

So where does this take me besides rambling on an on with this rhetoric? Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again. You can never go back to the way it once was. You can try, but you will be bitterly disappointed. As far as Jimmy goes, he has severed the social networking relationship and is pouting awhile, not just with me, but with others as well. I guess Jimmy has never read Thomas Wolfe. But if he is the same kid I knew 40 years ago, he is reading this blog and maybe growing a little. I hope so. Because I think that once Jimmy grows up and evolves, we can continue to be friends. I might even regress a little and meet him half way.

And as far as me going home, home is wherever my wife has her loving arms wide open and waiting for me, regardless of quantity or lack of it, my quality of life always includes her.

Thanks for stopping by.


©2011 By Del Banks


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