Thomas Wolfe once wrote that, “You can’t go home again.” Part of me believes that is true. Yet part of me thinks you can. I just did. It took ten years and a 50th wedding anniversary to make it happen. But I did go home. Not to 204. Although I visited the place, stopped long enough to take one photograph. Then left.
I hadn’t been back in ten years. Two funerals and one wedding brought me there a decade ago. I swore I’d never go back. Without Ma and The Old Man and 204 there wasn’t much appeal. Those ten years flew by so quickly. Like a crimson maple leaf in the Northwestern Ontario autumn wind. Here and then gone.
When E and I got married last year my brother and sister-in-law flew out for the occasion. We were sitting around our kitchen table one evening eating pizza and killing ourselves laughing over the silly things that only siblings find amusing. It was then that my brother extended the invitation to attend their 50th anniversary the following summer. At the time I said, “Yeah, that would be nice. We’ll do that.” But secretly I thought, “Not on your life.” It wasn’t because I didn’t want to celebrate this milestone with them because I most definitely did. I just didn’t want to do it there. Over the course of the year I considered the possibility of flying 3,000 miles to spend a week in the West End, not smack dab in the old neighborhood but pretty darn close. As quickly as the thought entered my mind I dismissed it. Shrugged it off like a nasty mosquito. Of which they have many in that neck of the woods. But as the date drew closer, somehow my heart changed. I thought of what this would mean to my brother and his family. It wasn’t just an invitation to a party. It was an invitation to come home and spend time with someone who shared an unbreakable bond and love for Ma like I did.
The flight was booked. I was going.
Little back story. There isn’t much of their wedding day that I remember. It’s all very sketchy. Impressionistic. Fuzzy around the edges. I was too young to have captured any of it permanently in the camera of my mind. So I am reliant on the story the black and white photographs and a yellowed newspaper clipping convey.
At 11:30 in the morning on Saturday, August 18,1962 my big brother’s life was transformed. It was at that hour that he became a husband to the most beautiful girl in the room. Two small town kids who met and fell in love. Soul mates. Best friends. Keepers of true love. There for each other through the hills and valleys of life. A blessing to everyone who loves them. They are the dear ones.
The day began with sunshine, sweet anticipation, butterflies in the stomach, hair appointments, intimate moments with family at home. Captured on film for eternity. These personal snapshots were followed by formal professional photos at Pouncy’s Studio. The costs for this photographic session, $52.10. And the album full of exquisite 8×10 black and white photos, $76.87. Enjoying the experience of leafing through the perfectly preserved book of romantic sweet memories. Priceless. An homage to the enduring MasterCard commercials that I love.
Vows were exchanged at St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church.
Commitments made. Promises kept. The first kiss as husband and wife. Confetti rained from the sky in adoration. The gorgeous bride in her white organza gown and radiant smile. Cascade of red roses. Crystals and pearls. The tall dark and handsome groom in black tux and eyes only for the girl he loved, the woman who would be his love forever and always. His dream come true. Her love at first sight.
The day’s ceremonies were followed by rejoicing and merrymaking where everyone danced into the night. Cake was cut, bouquet thrown and off they went for the time of their life. And what a wonderful life it has been. Fifty years later and still in love. Still dedicated to each other and an inspiration to all who cherish them. They have shown us what a good marriage looks like.
The anniversary celebration was joyous. Lovely. Memorable. Golden. My niece orchestrated every detail. From the delicious food, that she so lovingly prepared for days on end, to the colorful balloons, streamers and photo display to honor her parents. Everything was letter perfect. I can’t think of a better way for a child to pay tribute to the ones who love her so dearly. What a gift. Again priceless.
One of the highlights of the party. Watching my big brother waltz with his best man. What was supposed to have been a reenactment of the first dance with his bride turned into a comical, zany and poignant moment caught on video by yours truly. Another priceless moment.
As I look back on those ten days spent with my brother and his family I am grateful for the time we had together. I am grateful I made the decision to be a part of their celebration, to be a part of the happy memories. I am grateful that I have a big brother who was man enough to weep when I surprised him at his doorstep. He had no idea I was coming. It reminded me that I need to show up more often. Especially in the lives of those I love. Until that moment in his driveway, when we embraced and he cried tears of joy, I think I had forgotten just how much I loved him. There we were. Ma’s kids. Her first and last born. Together.
So Thomas Wolfe, I agree that I can never go home again. At least not to the home that was once such a big part of my life, that shaped and informed the person I am today. I can’t walk through the front door of 204 and say, “Hi Ma. Hey Dad.” Breathe in the scent of Ma’s ginger cookies fresh out of the oven, Sunday’s roast dinner, coffee brewing on the stove. Kiss them on the cheek before I walk out the door. Look back and wave goodbye.
But I can go home to remember. To celebrate. To honor. To love.