You can go home, but it won't be the same as you saw it before By Barbara Seiler Nemec Somebody once wrote: "You can never go home." He was right, in a way. You can go home, but it's never the same. There's a certain point in a person's life when things change. When home just isn't the same anymore. Maybe it happens when a young person goes off to college, gets married, or takes a job in another part of the country. A subtle change takes place, and home just isn't the same. Actually, it is us who have changed. We will forever see home through new eyes.
What happens after 50 years when we go back to our roots and try to find home? Not long ago the Vermillion High School graduating class of 1950 returned to the town of their youth for a reunion. There were 75 of them 50 years ago when they marched down the aisle in Slagle Auditorium to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. Twelve of them have fallen to cancer, accidents and other illnesses. Thirty-five of the class made it back to Vermillion for the reunion.
At our 25th reunion many of us still had parents in the area, and we could easily recognize our former class members. At the 40th reunion, age and gravity had taken a toll; we weren't as slim and svelte, but were still hale and hearty for the most part. Something happened between the 40th and 50th reunions. I found myself peering at my classmates' name tags, which had our yearbook pictures, in order to identify people. I wanted to think it was the rest of them who had changed so dramatically, and I had stayed the same. At least pretty much the same. But who was I kidding? We're senior citizens now! Listen to us talking about health. We get up in the night to use the bathroom. We shop in the pharmacy aisle at K-Mart. We take our blood pressure and monitor our food intake. We are realizing how short and precious life is.
Another change was apparent to me. We were unified. Gone were cliques and power groups. For one weekend we were equal: old grads returning to their little town and classmates. We had shared that unique experience of traversing through the tumultuous years of high school together. Life had treated some of us more kindly than others, but that didn't matter. All of us felt embraced in the concern and love of the others. We were truly mature adults now. Does it really take that long?
I spent some time in the afternoon searching for "home." The stately old high school was gone, replaced by water treatment plants. How well I remember riding my bicycle down that long tunnel of elm trees on shady Dakota Street. The elm trees are
long gone, victims of disease. The clock at Artley's Cleaners once let me know if I could make it to school without being late for eight o'clock band practice. Then past the Carnegie Library and up to school. Someone had the foresight to save the historical old library building, and my eyes feasted on that bit of my past. I hunted for the Chimes Cafe on Main Street where I used to work, but was unable to decide which building once housed it. But the old Davis Drug store was still there with its antique scale where you can weigh yourself for free. Nobody was around to peek, so I weighed myself for old time's sake.
Austen's Ice Cream Store on the corner was gone. I remember getting double dip ice cream cones there for 10 cents. The dime stores were gone, replaced by saloons. Remember Meisenholders, billed as the largest department store in the area? There's a parking lot there now. That old Vermillion landmark, the beautiful pink Quartzite church on Main Street was still there. As a child I used to pretend it was a castle. I drove down Washington Street to see St. Agnes, the church of my childhood. The red brick Norman structure has been converted into an art center. Remember the old March Theatre building with its fancy balconied facade? We used to watch movies and squeal when bats flew across the screen. A bank now fills that corner.
I drove a half mile north on what used to be University Road to the former site of Independence No. 1, the little rural school where I spent eight years. There are houses there now. Then the last and saddest part of my return to "home"; I drove over to the farm. The buildings were gone, and all that remained was the windmill lying on the ground like a felled giant. I stood there, in the cornfield, and thought. You can go "home," but it isn't the same.