Thomas Wolff wrote, “You can’t go home again.” I read and enjoyed the novel years ago, but didn’t fully grasp its full import until my visit to Elko over 4th of July weekend.
Elko is my hometown. Memories are still fresh and vivid of childhood best friends and treehouses, of Southside Elementary and the High School, of our house on Metzler Road where I grew up and the small apartment at the Blue Jay Bar where I lived my first years of life, of Basque parades and picnics, of dancing and wood chopping, and naturally, of mom and dad.
This mosaic of memory, for me, is my hometown, but in truth, it no longer exists, or if it does, it exists forever frozen in memory never to be thawed into reality. I had to admit and accept this difficult point.
I stayed at a hotel, not a home. The faces I once knew were older now, or the names I recognized belonged to their children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews, and while I knew the names, I no longer knew the faces.
I visited my first childhood home, once the Blue Jay Bar, and found it boarded up with a new name. My next home where I grew up most of my life had fallen into terrible disrepair.
Of all things, the Basque festival felt most familiar, though smaller and shorter and less colorful than my memory recalled.
None of this recent experience is to poke fun or diminish or criticize. I would never do that of my hometown or its vibrant people. That simply is not my nature.
Rather, it’s a realization that all things change, indeed, must change, and as much as we often hope to find a wonderful past, a happy childhood, a set of poignant memories waiting for us, we learn painfully that Thomas Wolff was right, you can’t go home again.
I learned something else, too. What was, what is, and what will be cannot claim dominance in the same time and space. One of the three must always yield to the other two. Clinging to a past delays a future; embracing a future lets go of a past.
It’s one thing for the old to fade in its own time as new ideas, new people slowly ascend. That is common. Gradualism helps us cope with inevitable changes.
But it’s quite another thing to step aside and usher in the future. I’m reminded of a picture hanging on my wall at home. It’s the original AP photograph of Kennedy delivering his inaugural address in 1961. It shows a young, energetic, charismatic man speaking to an exultant crowd, as aging men and women look on around him, including President Eisenhower.
The photo is remarkable, I think, not merely because of its historical importance, but because of the demarcation so rarely drawn with such clarity between old and new, between what was and is, and what will be.
As an optimist and a technologist, I’m often fond of this accelerated approach. I’m eager to see what’s around the next corner or over the next mountain. I always have been.
I’m eager to see Elko in the next fifty years, and I’m eager to see what the Basque in Elko and across America become in the years to come. The faster we usher in that future the more excited I’ll be.
I do not hold myself out as an exception to this aspiration. Like others, I am a relic, someone who exists and speaks and writes from the vantage of frozen memories and a past that no longer exists.
To help move things along, this column will be my last column. I’m stepping aside — the old giving way to the new. I’m not giving up my feeble pen, nor passing a torch really. Rather, I’m hoping others find time and energy to hone their own pens and light their own torches and write better than I ever could about Basque history, people, culture, and achievements. With more torches, there’s more light, and we need as much light as we can get. The subject matter is rich beyond measure.
My great hope is that one day when I return to Elko, the surprise will not be that I can’t go home again, but that a new future has been forged brighter and more powerful than any in my memory.