“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
Thomas Wolfe lied.
For the last three weeks I have been proving him wrong.
You can go home again.
I am in the process of doing exactly that. In fact, one of the first things I did
when I moved back to Lititz, PA, was to join a bike tour
which featured the “Jacob Huber’s Tavern,” the house where I grew up
and which is historically significant in the history of Lititz.
I was asked to give recollections of growing up in this historic house, something I wrote about in Blush.
It was an honor to pay tribute to the many people who have loved this house.
As former owner Dale Groff said on the bike tour,
“None of us who lived here has owned this place. It is a house for the ages.”
The house, built in the 1730s, was in the Snyder and Hershey families for six generations
and is now again in the (Hershey)Weaver family
since being purchased by my cousin Bob Weaver.
The stonework was restored by Jay and Kathy Wenger, who bought
the house from the Groffs. The house has been an inn for more than 20 years,
as it was in colonial times.
I can rent my teenage bedroom, and have, several times, going home again to “Time and Memory.”
Jacob Huber’s tavern was a stop Moravian missionary Count Zinzendorf made on his trip through the colonies.
Because Zinzendorf’s preaching stirred the heart of the nearby farmer George Klein,
he became a Moravian and donated his 491 acre farm, which became the town of Lititz.
Now that our new home is located in the heart of Lititz,
I can return to favorite haunts, such as the school I loved, less than a mile away.
Close to the high school, children are dangling their feet in water
at Lititz Springs Park, just like I did almost seventy years ago.
When I walk in the park,
I feel like singing the John Prine song “Hello in There.”
The line that reverberates:
“Old trees just grow stronger.”
I am an old tree now, and so are most of my readers.
Some of us will be fortunate enough to grow even older in the company of friends and family.
Like my dear mother.
No matter how long we live and how much health we are blessed with along the way, we are all mortal.
Thomas Wolfe was right when he says there is no place to go to find the “old forms” that once seemed everlasting.
I’m not looking for those.
But why does he call Time and Memory an escape too? They fascinate me.
Here’s what I hope:
You can go home again. Not to discover clear plastic covers over all the past.
Not to relive memories smudged with tangles and plaques. Not to discover a universal system. Not to escape the suffering all lives are heir to.
Instead, I am going home because it was my first home beyond the mysterious realm from which I came.
My name is a place name. It means “from the bright meadow.”
The meadow was a magical place in my childhood. I can walk to the very place now.
And take my grandchildren with me.
The weeping willows fell over in a storm, but new shoots grew out of them.
I am going home in the spirit of the “Wayfaring Stranger.”
I’m going home to meet my mother. And my brother and my sisters. And my cousins. And my nephews and nieces.
And my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter.
I am going home prepared to experience awe —
not because the past is static but because it changes in such amazing, unfathomable patterns.
When we sit on the porch in the early morning, this is what we see —
Red Fox Lane, our neighbors in this welcoming community.
In 1966, the last year I lived in Lititz 55 years ago, this land was a tree nursery.
Centuries before that, it was George Klein’s farm.
I’ve already had my view of the past rearranged by reading local history since I arrived.
Because I grew up in a house with an historical plaque on the front porch,
I somehow got the idea that
George Klein gave his farm to Lititz because Count Zinzendorf was such a powerful preacher,
and Klein gave his farm out of pure love for the Moravian community.
Here’s what the local historians say:
“When Klein and his wife arrived here in 1740, it was the last tract still for sale.
It was a jungle of scrub oak and bramble with many outcroppings of limestone and a huge swamp.
The only tillable land was in the east end. Klein hoped to make the farm pay by grazing cattle in the large meadows and also by extensive fruit growing.”
Klein didn’t give the farm outright. He exchanged it for lifetime income. Not a bad deal.
And not a bad deal for the town, either.
After many transformations, it now has both a deep historical past
and a new appeal, not only to elders, but to the young, and to artists.
More about that anon.
Even as I have made the journey home, so has this town, cycling in and out of its past,
casting off some of the old but keeping what matters most.
This is my Grover’s Corners, and I’m glad I’m here.
I’m here to learn the lesson imparted by Emily in Our Town.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
In the moments I could answer “yes” to this question, I knew I was home.
There have been quite a few of those in the last three weeks.
* * *
Now, I hope you will share stories about going home. Are you a stay-at-homer, a come-back-homer, a cycler-in-and-outer?
What name would you give to your relationship to home? Also, have I convinced you that Thomas Wolfe was wrong? What has changed about your home? For good or ill?
P. S. One of the other bike tour members, Gale Hess, took a video of the entire
visit to Jacob Huber’s Tavern. To preserve the important history it contains,
I add it here. Thank you, Gale!