I like to go back to my hometown of Gunnison, Colorado at least every couple of years. Not to try to recapture my youth – God forbid! I never want to be a teenager again! No, now it is to rediscover the sights and feelings that I had forgotten about – or just didn’t take the time to discover when I was growing up there. There is a lot to be said for going back to your hometown as a ‘stranger’ or a ‘tourist’ because there is no one reporting to your mother where you are going and who you are hanging out with.
For people who have never lived in a small town, let me educate you about being ‘raised by a village’. My mother made James Bond’s Q look like a wannabe. She had her own spy network all over town and in most cases when I was some place I wasn’t supposed to be or I was late getting home, my mother usually knew all about what was going on before I even walked in the door. Keep in mind this is the days before cell phones! These are the good ol’ days of shopkeepers and business owners knowing who I was and who I belonged to – then taking the time to call my mother on a rotary phone – which meant that had to actually know my home number and dial the entire number not just press a button for memory to retrieve it. In some cases, it was a person passing by a place and seeing me with my friends and scurrying home to tell my mom exactly where I was and who I was with. This was especially important when I was late for curfew – because they “knew” Mom would be worried about me.
So now – the joy of going back home is that I am anonymous. I am not deranged enough to think I look ‘just like I did in high school’ and that people will recognize me. I am not famous or infamous. I have no family that lives in town any longer – just a few friends who really don’t care where I go or who I see.
Of course things have changed in my hometown. My junior high (or middle school for you youngsters out there) is gone and has been incorporated into what was my high school. My grade school is now county offices. The houses I lived in are either gone, remodeled and have strangers living in them. The businesses are different and places where I wasn’t allowed to go as a teenager, my mother would probably have no problem with me visiting now. There are more fast food places – and fewer of the ones I used to love (no more A&W, Pizza Hut or KFC). My favorite food places are still there and I make sure to visit them and eat anything I want – because nobody cares what I eat (thank you Mario’s for making me a Ham-What-Am even though it isn’t on the menu any longer!).
Now, as a stranger/tourist, I get to see my hometown as some place special. A place in the mountains that is beautiful and tranquil. A place that holds dear memories – but also a place that has adventures to be experienced, new trails to be explored and mountains to climb. So, even though Thomas Wolfe said “you can’t go home again” – there is something special about going home as a stranger, a special kind of freedom and a path for new discoveries of old things.