You CAN Go Home Again and Live to Tell the Tale

loveuThis is my last hour in my hometown in a New York City suburb. I have been visiting my family here for a week. In seven short days, I have kissed and cavorted with members of four generations. I am not anxious to leave them.

During the time we’ve been together, we have communed not only with each other, but also with those who are not with us. My mother’s half-brother reminds me, for the first time, of my beloved grandfather, who died 11 years ago. We have discussed various details of my deceased father’s personality. We have debated the job prospects of my niece back in L.A.

Through it all, we have told stories. Before becoming a professional storyteller, I never realized that I had grown up in a family of storytellers. For that matter, before becoming a teacher of storytelling, I never realized that virtually all families are families of storytellers.

My mother told me the following story off the top of her head when I was six years old, and she was 32: There was a Volkswagen named Pickles. She was very wrinkled, so she bought wrinkle cream. She spread so much wrinkle cream all over her body that she disappeared.

That’s not the kind of story I was thinking of, necessarily, and it doesn’t technically qualify as a family story. I was compiling an anthology at the time, and I was annoying my mother to contribute something. She told me this off the top of her head. The reason I bring it up is that years later, it is the story about her telling me this story that has become a family story. With time and reflection, I can see that growing older was something that was beginning to bother her (did I mention that she owned a Volkswagen), at a time when she had recently started attending college.  Imagining my mother’s feelings at age 32, when she was impossibly old to me at an age that now strikes me as impossibly young, is interesting. At least to me.

So is walking around the park in which I cut classes (actually we cut lunch, but that’s too embarrassing to admit right off the bat) from junior high, kissed my 16-year-old boyfriend and ice skated. I have so many memories of my hometown, both good and bad, that, in communication terms, the “noise” can at times be overwhelming. That is to say, I sometimes quite literally have trouble seeing and hearing what is all around me in the present, because the past insists on intruding. This is not necessarily a problem; after all, I do not work and live there. But I keep thinking: How can I stop coming here, once my mom no longer lives in this town? How can I ever hold onto my past if I no longer walk these streets?

I know that it’s unusual to have one’s mother live in the same house for more than 50 years. I know it’s not common to be able to go home again. And so many people would like nothing less. But for me, the trip back to that New York suburb is a constant source of nourishment. I recall what I wanted, what I got, what I didn’t want, what I wasn’t able to get. It doesn’t always make me happy. But it reminds me that I survived it. Every bit of it. And that, at least, is deeply satisfying.

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  • Marlene  On August 24, 2013 at 11:40 am

    so profound and beautifully expressed. Family always seem to bring out an array emotions and memories. To quote, or shall I say paraphrase, an old cliché, You can’t live with them and you can’t love with out them.

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