Home, again
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, June 19, 2014


“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”

— Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t Go Home Again”

Actually, I’d gone home to western Pennsylvania, to the little town (now a city) in the Allegheny Mountains, many times: to visit my parents, then not for a decade until my 50th high school reunion in 2011. But though I’d read Thomas Wolfe during my college years, I recalled just the title of the book, which always seemed technically inaccurate; the feelings noted in the above quote didn’t register with me until I returned with my son and his family for a week this month. The twins just turned teenagers; Lance will be 50 in July. Now I’m newly aware that “the years flow by like water” — for most of my life, I was just happily flowing with it, not noticing how the current speeds up as you get closer to the mouth of the river.

There’s something about taking your grandchildren to the grave of their great-great-great great grandparents, on a hilltop cemetery like the one in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Now joined by my parents, they seem as they always seemed to me: “waiting for something that they feel is comin’. Something important, and great.”

I’m newly aware of that coming wait-time because I hurt my knee just before leaving and needed a wheelchair to get to and from the airplane, and walked with a cane during the vacation trip. I’m not old, I kept telling everyone, just injured. Yeah, in the rapidly aging knee ...


I smiled every time we passed a sign saying “City of St. Marys.” It was a “town” until it expanded to include the township; now it has a population of 13,070 and 99 square miles of farms, cornfields and forest, making it, according to Wikipedia, the second-largest Pennsylvania community in land area after Philadelphia! The railroad runs through the center of town; we stayed at a bed and breakfast called the Cozy Afghan, from where we could hear the train whistle that I heard as a child, planning my adventure to wherever it was going.

The farthest I got was a trip with my paternal grandpa to visit family in Hamilton, Ontario, when I was 11. I told the twins, who were very good about sitting around with their newly met grown-up relatives, that when I did this, the grown-ups were speaking Croatian, which Mother and I couldn’t understand! They smiled and went back to their iPod Touch games and text conversations with both Nevada and new friends, the grandsons of my best friends Anne and Jerry.

This had been my vacation plan: My little family would fly east, and I would fly west to meet in Pittsburgh, where we’d rent a car and drive through the woods to a cookout where the four grandchildren would connect and become friends, as we were. Easy to imagine this not working, but it did: They hit it off and spent two days hanging out, toasting marshmallows, going to a movie in the same theater in which their grandmothers saw every MGM musical. Now they can text each other; I’ve come to finally appreciate the new technology. Anne and I Skype, so we’re never shocked to find each other older when I return.


My paternal cousin Patty also had a cookout for us. All my nine cousins are still living except the youngest, on my mother’s side, who shot himself on the town common near the “eternal flame” for veterans, after returning from Vietnam.

St. Marys is in Elk County, to which elk similar to those that went extinct in the 19th century have been returned. We saw three cows but no buck this trip, except during the “4-D” Immersive theater at the Elk Country Visitor Center. From there, we drove to Kane (population 3,730, land area 1.6 square miles), where we joined my ex-husband, the twins’ “Grumpaw,” who drove to his hometown from his present home in New Jersey. Lance and I stayed with his family during our Navy years, when he was at sea; now I stayed with my friend Helen. We visited my cousin Bob, while Grumpaw took his turn showing the twins their McKean County roots. On the final day there, he took us all to breakfast at his beloved Texas Hot restaurant.

At another cemetery, we left flowers at the grave of the twins’ great-grandparents. Grumpaw also took them to Twin Lakes, where he and I met when he was a lifeguard and I was the only person swimming in the icy cold water. They didn’t swim, it was raining, as it rained most of the time we were in Pennsylvania. The family from the seriously dry northern Nevada valley didn’t complain, except grandson didn’t like the way the humidity curled his hair.

We returned to Pittsburgh by way of Cook Forest State Park, where my parents rented a log cabin with friends for some of my childhood vacations. As the guys went running on a trail of old-growth trees, I sat in an Adirondack rocker on a wide log-building porch watching the rain, listening to the thunder, and thinking I could stay right here and never again notice the world outside the “Forest Cathedral.”

But I didn’t. We went on to see more family in Pittsburgh, which has become a beautiful city, with its three rivers swollen from the weeklong rains, and then to the airport. Now I’m “home again,” again.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle-Tribune newspapers.

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