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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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I Did Go Home Again

This Old House


American novelist, Thomas Wolfe said, “You can never go home again.”  I know that he meant that we see things differently as an adult than we do as a child. In our childhood homes the yards are  smaller than we remember, and some of the friends that we grew up with are almost unrecognizable. Some of the dreams we were going to turn into realities remain as aged memories, still unfulfilled.

But I did go home again. My husband and I went to the Cleveland area in October to see family and friends. Cleveland is my Mecca. That faraway place that holds a passionate place in my heart, for that is where four out of our nine grandchildren live.

My family moved to Cleveland in 1961—on the far West side, on the corner of a quiet residential street. I could run from the front yard to the back—all the way to the garage, but it was such a distance, I would often have to sit on the wooden steps to the back door, facing a busy street to catch my breath.

I spent many hours on those steps. As I grew up, I would watch fast cars and cool guys drive past the house and wonder if I was ever going to be a passenger in one of those cars. I would play pinochle on that porch, with my best friend, Gail, who had long, long hair that she would roll into a bun on top of her head. In the summer months we would play badminton in the quiet street out front. I saw the little next door neighbor girl, Peggy, and wished I had straight, black hair like she did, instead of the Andre Duvalle kinky perm my mother made us get.

I got my first kiss on those steps. I was fourteen and had a boyfriend. Me, gangly, plain, me. A boy liked me enough to kiss me. Ray walked me home from school one day. My mother wouldn’t let him come in the house, because, well, he was a 15-year-old boy, so she “allowed” us to sit on the back steps for a half hour before shooing him home. She stayed close to the back door watching and listening for the slightest impropriety. As we sat there, talking about school and friends, one of those cool guys in a fast car went by. He yelled out, “Kiss her!”  So, Ray did. I was surprised. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I did nothing. I liked it. I liked being close to Ray because he had sneaked some of his father’s after shave lotion in a small bottle in his pocket and put it on before he walked me home. He smelled good. I touched his face so I could keep the smell close to me. When my mother heard the guy in the fast car, she threw open the back door of the house and told Ray she knew what he did, and he better go home and never come back. If he did, she would call his mother.

When I was in junior high and high school, I started spending more time at Gail’s house. Ray and I were still an “item” and my mother suspected as much. I was forbidden to see him. Gail’s mother looked at things a bit differently than my mother. Her idea was to get to know the young men who came to her house seeking her daughters’ company, so they were welcome anytime. She was a wise woman. Her daughters met many young men—some stayed around longer than others, but she knew them—and they knew not to try anything with her daughters. My mother’s methodology made Ray even more attractive to me, so I continued to see him long after he had lost that initial appeal. I was rebelling in the only way I knew how to. Ray would come to Gail’s house, and we would take over the stairs going to the upper level of the house just talking and hugging. We were careful to check to ensure my mother wasn’t in the front yard of my house when we separated to go to our respective homes. We walked in the shadows and hid from the moon. And, even though there was a bathroom on the first floor, Gail’s mother made many trips to the bathroom upstairs, frequently separating Ray and I as she walked through. Many years later, she told me that she was doing a “petting check” to ensure my blouse and undergarments were where they were supposed to be.

Gail had an older sister, Linda. Linda was in high school and was very cool. She had a boyfriend with a car. She graduated from high school and got a job in a bank. She had taken classes in high school for data processing and was now a punch card operator. She would buy clothes from downtown and eat lunch at restaurants with her own money. Linda was my idle. One day, she was going to marry her boyfriend, Tom. She knew that as well as she knew her own name.

And so, 52 years went quickly by. I came home. We held “Neighbor Lunch” at a local restaurant in a suburb of Cleveland. Linda did marry Tom, 51 years ago. She is in a wheelchair now, tended by her daughter, Pam. When we met, Pam said to her mother, “So is this the Jan that used to come to grandma’s house to see her boyfriend?”  Gail still has long hair–almost to her waist. She always did. She is widowed now and lives in her childhood home where the memories of Ray and badminton are still alive in the depths of my soul. She lives across the street from Linda and Tom, who bought the house across from that wonderful childhood home of theirs–the place where everyone hung out.  Linda wanted to stay close to her parents and the world she knew so well.  Like the teenagers they were, years later, Linda and Tom would never have to go home again.  They were already there.

Peggy was there, still with her beautiful hair and her now retired doctor, husband. They travel the world but still fondly remember the place in which we grew up. How often I would look over the hedges that separated our houses and see Peggy and Alex going out on a date when their relationship was new. He was tall, with nerdy glasses. But he knew who he was and had a plan for his future. He married Peggy and took her off to Ohio State University. She worked while he studied, and they built a strong bond together.

I looked at all of the aging faces; but saw the young friends I used to know so well.  I didn’t go by the house to look at the back steps, but I know that some other young person is sitting on them now thinking about the future they might have one day.

I saw Ray about 45 years ago. We both went to the same restaurant for lunch one workday. We were both alone and were seated at tables facing each other. After we looked at the menu, we both looked up waiting for the server. We looked at each other and he said, “Is that you?”  I said, “Yes, is that you?”  And we both immediately looked around to ensure my mother wasn’t watching us, ready to yell at Ray. I guess old habits do die hard.

I think Thomas Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again as long as you remember that where your heart is today was shaped by the home you left so many years ago.  The dreams of your youth may not have come true, because other dreams have taken their place, but all in all, that’s not a bad thing.



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About the Contributor
Jan Morgan-Swegle
Jan Morgan-Swegle is the Editor of Cape Fear Voices.  She has been writing for CFV for almost 3 years.  She is originally from the Cleveland area and moved down to Leland 12 years ago.  She and her husband, Tony, and their dog, Dixie, enjoy sitting on the lanai listening to music and sharing wine (Dixie likes white wine but only gets two finger tips full!!)  They have 3 children and 9 grandchildren living in Cleveland, Ohio,  Charlotte, North Carolina and Lakeland, Florida.

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  • D

    Daniel NeizmikNov 1, 2023 at 9:16 pm

    Jan, I’m glad you enjoyed your trip… what great memories! Thanks for sharing this. I felt for a moment like I was watching a movie. I really liked it!

    • A

      adviserNov 1, 2023 at 9:52 pm

      Thank you dear, glad you enjoyed it!