Sunday, October 30, 2016

Going Home

I was reading a Facebook post by a cousin of mine this evening. While he lives on the East Coast, in a large city, he had returned to his home when he was a youth in a small Midwest town.  He wrote:

"The seduction of this town of my youth epitomized in that when I go out walking in it at night a startled wild rabbit runs across the lawn I am walking past and the nearest traffic I can hear is a quarter mile away."

That brief post got me to thinking about the allure of going home.

Of course, great literature has been written on this theme. One of the oldest classics is The Odyssey, which is ALL about Odysseus returning home, or trying to, after the Trojan War. That was a long trip, a very l...o...n...g trip home.

There are dramas about losing the sense of home. King Lear comes to mind. Lear is not so much trying to return to the home of his youth; he is trying to find home in his old age. In his waning years, he suffers the ravages of aging, including being outcast by his daughters one by one. He has, of course, complicated matters by promising his kingdom to his daughters if they will first say how much they love him. The two older daughters flatter him with glowing effusive declarations of love. The youngest--Cordelia--refuses to reduce her love for her father to honeyed words.  She loves him more than words can express.  Lear mistakes this refusal for her lack of love and disowns her. 

Well, I don't want to tell you the whole King Lear story--let's just say it ends badly with Lear losing everything, including his home.

Robert Frost's poem "The Death of the Hired Man" contains these haunting lines about home: "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."  That is certainly a spare, and somewhat sad definition of home. But it does resonate.

Home is understandably a place. My husband grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania. If he wants to, he CAN go home again. He can go right back to the town, to the street where his grandparents lived, and the street where he and his parents lived in the house his father built. Of course, all of those dear ones are no longer living, but the place can still speak their memories.

But when I think about going home, I think of the part of Africa where I grew up. In particular, the one mission station is in the country of Zimbabwe, and even though the mission still stands, everything has changed. I have seen photos of the house where we lived, and it has changed in so many ways.  (The photo above is one of the mission house as I remember it.)

I am left with a sense that I can't go home again. Not for lack of thinking about home where I grew up. But because of the vicissitudes of time having completely altered the geography of my memory.

What say you--can you go home again? 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Precious Memories?

Last week, I selected the topic of reunions as the subject for blog writing. And, frankly, my first intent was to write about family reunions. I come from a family where reunions have been a many decade tradition--at least on my mother's side of the family.

But then, I turned my attention to a non-family reunion. See, I was about to return to my college alma mater and celebrate with fellow graduates our 50th college graduation!  Golden Grads! Yup, that's us.

Oh, there are so many advantages (disadvantages?) to returning to the college where you began your adult life. Good memories, bad memories. Recognizing college friends, not recognizing college friends. Seeing old professors, not seeing departed professors. 

Any reunion is a mixture of joy and sadness. Of sweet memories and bittersweet memories.

Our mortality is ever present--classmates who joined us for the 40th reunion now gone; classmates who were hale and hearty now wheel-chair bound, classmates who were dear friends and now barely remember you.

My recollections focus both on the personal--things we did in college--and the universal--things that happened to our country while we were in college.

So, walk down memory lane with me for a short while as I revisit a major event from the four years of my college days.

1962-63: no sooner had we begun our freshmen year than the world plunged into threats of war. It began on October 22 with the start of the Cuban Missile crisis.  What I recall is the terror we felt as we lived through during those 7 days in October, from October 22 to October 28. Frankly, we thought we were living on the brink of a nuclear war. From the beginning of the crisis when our spy satellites saw the build-up of nuclear missiles in Cuba, to the response of President Kennedy to place a blockade around Cuba, to the Soviets insistence that they would  send their ships anyway, running through the blockade to the final stand-down resolution--I can say we lived through days of terror. 

Particularly visit it the time I was riding along with some girlfriends in a car, as we listened to the radio coverage of the U.N. debate.  We waited to see if there was the launching of a nuclear war between the U.S and Russia.

I do not want to live through such an event again--the world hovering on the brink of nuclear war.

1963-64: our sophomore year began...calmly. Oh, there was the traditional reconnecting of couples or uncoupling as the case may have been.  There were higher level classes we were taking, with the attendant increase in academic rigor. But what dominated that year was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  The news came over the loud speakers in Old Main. I was on the college debate team and we had assembled, preparing to debate for a weekend tournament at Fordham University.  Suddenly the news "President Kennedy has died" came over the loud speakers. 

The nation plunged into mourning--a president so young, so full of bright promise, a widow only 33 years old, two photogenic children, a nation stunned.  

Some of the members of our class, particularly those who had access to cars (a rarity in those days) traveled the hundred plus miles to Washington, D.C. to attend the funeral. 

I do not want to live through the collective grief ever again--a nation mourning a leader struck down by a soul-less assassin.

1964-65: our junior year--now we were taking upper level course and choosing majors (if we hadn't already)--once again national events dominated our thinking. It was an election year. The candidates, Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson, presented two vastly different world views. Goldwater wanted to use "low-level" atomic weapons in north Vietnam. Johnson ran a political ad which showed a sweet child pulling petals off a daisy counting. Her little voice then morphed into a countdown voice--10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.  And then a mushroom cloud. At no time was Goldwater's named used, but the implication was clear.  

I recall being on a debate team for an all-college debate: I along with a partner arguing for Johnson, and two other students arguing for Goldwater. The only other thing I remember about that election campaign is that Goldwater made a stop in Harrisburg. He came into town on a train, which stopped on a bridge over Market Street.  The crowd gathered below to hear him. At the time, I was so struck at how mob psychology worked--people who may not have been his supporters being swept up into the crowd chant. (Shades of a future campaign!) Well, we know how that race turned out: Johnson won having partly campaigned on not expanding the war in Vietnam.

I do not want to live through another populist candidate fanning the populist sentiment with dangerous and impossible ideas.

1965-66: President Johnson's promise to not expand the war in Vietnam was quickly broken. Retaliatory strikes had begun in late 1964 after reports of an attack on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Congress quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which effectively gave the president authority to expand the military effort in Vietnam. And with his election secure, President Johnson did exactly that.  

When we graduated in 1966, several of our classmates were drafted or volunteered and were deployed to Vietnam. Within one year of our graduating, one of these young men--Larry Houck, who had been our class president one year--was killed. That experience of loss was repeated in town after town, in school after school, in college after college. It is something that I still grieve today, as do many of my generation who began the 1960s with such a hope of a new order--the age of Aquarius. 

I do not want to continue to see bright men and women with their lives ended prematurely because of ill-advised wars.

 Of course--if you look over all the things in this post that I said I do not want to live through again, you may note that in fact we HAVE lived through all of these again.

Reunions? A time for reconnecting, for regretting, and for remembering.