Can You Really Not Go Home Again?

Road Trip IV, Days 29-31: Hangin’ Out in Durham, NC

I’m home. And I’m one of the very few 52 year-old Americans who can say that.

Both my parents still live on the funky little farm where I was born in 1961. My mom is in town right now tutoring her adult literacy student. My dad, semi-retired from Duke but still actively pursuing research in animal behavior, is at his lab checking on his lemurs. (He rides his part-electric tricycle the six miles each way.)


The dogs in the yard are just as noisy as the ones we had when I was growing up: Norwegian Elkhounds (plus a poodle). The horses are a little less motley and scruffy than the ones I grew up riding, as my mom developed a taste for dressage, but the barnyard critters are just as colorful: chickens, a goat, and Stevie, the World’s Cutest Ass Donkey. (Their llama died a couple years ago, as did Bess, the Wandering Sheep.)


The house is even more crammed with my grandmother’s artwork (she was a sculptor), my mom’s weavings, and items picked up from a lifetime of travel to places like Madagascar, Israel and Guatemala, plus art and furniture made by various local artisan friends. Oh, and then there’s my dad’s proclivity for new gadgets, clashing horribly with the aforementioned art and requiring fancy wandering patterns to walk anywhere in the house. And the wall of family photos, stuck up higgledy-piggledy with pushpins, edges curling, hopelessly overlapping each other because new ones keep getting added without the old ones ever being organized.



None of the doors close properly. (Drives my carpenter husband nuts.) The ancient radiators still clank at night. The fridge is full of yogurt and peanut butter, local beer and imported cheese.




Carolina Friends School, which I attended K-12 (and walked to, since my parents donated some of their adjacent land for it) is still going strong. I can hear the kids right now, across the pond, out for recess. Their stray soccer balls still float by our dam.

Like I said: home.

How rare is it, at my age, to have parents still married to each other, still living in the same house where they’ve lived for the past 54 years?  

I try to make myself focus on what’s different. There’s a sporty new Subaru BRZ in the driveway, which my dad bought for my mom but she’s too embarrassed to drive. There’s a new road into the woods where Carolina Friends School is expanding; one day they will inherit the entire property from my folks. And if course there’s that poodle.

But that’s really it. Home is breathtakingly, chaotically, wonderfully the same: full of dog hair, musical instruments, books, and muddy boots.



So, Thomas Wolfe, fellow North Carolinian, I’m afraid I must beg to differ. It may not happen often, but…it happens. I’m home.

What do you guys think? Is my case not as rare as it feels? I would love to hear if you or anyone you know can relate to this question: Can you really not go home again?

8 thoughts on “Can You Really Not Go Home Again?

  1. All I have to do is step foot off the airplane in Chicago and I’m home. I’ve lived in California for 27 years now, but Chicago will always be home to me. The places we grew up, and all the associated memories, made us who we are. And there’s no place like home.

    • It’s nice to know Chi-town can still do that for you. In some ways, big cities are less changeable than small towns, because constant change is part of a big city, don’t you think?

  2. Sounds idealic, Gretchen. Enjoy your stay!

    I moved back to the little town I graduated from ten years ago. My daughter attends my high school. There’s a McDonald’s now, and the house I live in isn’t the one I grew up in (though my parents still live in it 7 miles away), but I jog past many of the same faces I grew up with, I meet my old teachers at the store, and I’m still cheering for the Wildcats. It’s home.

  3. Gretchen,

    I want to meet your parents and see your old house….ummm, is that creepy?

    I live on the rural road I grew up on, close enough that my kids can walk to my parents’ house in under five minutes. I can almost see their yard from mine.

    I can’t go home again. I know too much now that I didn’t then, and things I accepted as a part of life then still linger as memories and existing patterns within those walls.

    Some things have stayed the same – walls of collage frames and portraits, jumbled as you describe. From the front doorway, if I went there, I could see a blown-up snapshot of our newborn second son, Elijah, with my disembodied hand brushing his dark red hair while he lay in a NICU cradle. Only a few days after than photo was taken by my husband, Elijah would die in his daddy’s arms.

    This is a lovely and evocative post, shared with loving attention to detail.

    I’m happy you can go home; and happy I’ve made one I can come safely home to. =)

  4. SJ, talk about evocative…that picture you describe! I am very proud of my friends who, for whatever reason, have found or made new homes for themselves, some very far from their origin, and some, like you, closer. That is much harder than hat I’ve ever had to do. Thank you for sharing.

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