Alexandria, VA – According to Wikipedia, author Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) titled his book You Can’t Go Home Again from a conversation with writer Ella Winter, who remarked to him, “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?”
There’s an earlier quote on that theme from Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher (c535-c.475 BCE) who wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
I preached something similar when I was a photographer — if you see something that calls out to you as “a picture,” take it then. It will not likely be there when you come back, the light will be different, or you will be different.
Recently I have been musing about not being able to go home again. In part, the landscape is different. Consider, for example, this message from former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg:
“Stopped by Atlantis to get one last delicious meal before they closed today. I am so saddened that they are closing after 38 years. I love this place. So many great times and memories. There has been such an outpouring of well-deserved love and thanks for Atlantis and their great team. What are we if we survive this pandemic but lose the places that helped shape our community into what it is? This is a story told across our country. Such a shame….”
Besides the landscape, the people-scape changes. When I look at family photos from 20 years ago, many people are no longer alive. One by one, the “eagle of death” is carrying away the people who marked the way home.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., much of my family lived within walking distance of each other. Of course, walking distance covered a lot of miles in those days. I remember walking to the public library, several subway stations away. My mother’s side of the family saw each other at one home or another almost every weekend.
Many folks love New York City and are energized by it. I was not one of them. I didn’t like the tumult of family gatherings. I didn’t like the noise and grit of the city. I likened New York City to a giant smorgasbord. If you don’t push your way to the front of the line, you don’t get to eat.
Though I benefited greatly from the expansive library and museum systems and especially the public education system that enabled me to specialize in art in high school, I left home as soon as I turned 18 and relocated to Washington, D.C. I’m glad I did. I love my adopted home.
I’m profoundly grateful my children live near, but a part of me misses the other family. Now they are flung east to west and north to south. Though most live in New York and neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey, my sister lives in Las Vegas, two cousins live in Florida, and one in Washington State.
My eldest cousin, an inspiration and role model for me when I was growing up (she wrote a column for a local paper until recently and was paid to do it), was also the repository of family memory. I contacted her when I wanted to create a family tree. She knew the names, and importantly, she knew the stories, including some of the darker ones.
My niece, Ronni, is now the passionate archivist of family records. Thank you, Ronni. The Ronnis in your family need you to take the photos and write the stories. Future generations need you to mark the trails that point the way home.
Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.