Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Can You Go Home Again? Yes and No.

All my life I've heard, "you can't go home again." Well, you can, but more than likely it will be only moderately familiar. Another question: Do you want to?

I'm not one to get all weepy thinking about my childhood and the places that helped shape me. I don't long to reacquaint myself with the neighborhoods where I grew up. I had already lived in four towns/cities by the time I was 13, when we moved to Louisville, Ky.

Whether because of the abrupt two- to three-year duration of my stays in those first four places, or because I didn't form any deep friendships in them, I have no nagging desires to revisit a one of them. 

Yep, that's Little Rusty between ages 1 and 2, with the new family Boxer pup Duchess. Taken in the Harborcreek House.
 I was born in Erie, Pa and still have lots of cousins in the area -- none of whom I've seen in 10 to 15 years. I probably haven't been back to Erie in at least 15 years. I don't miss it. My family moved from Erie -- Harborcreek, actually -- before I was three. I have vivid memories of my short time there, but because I was so young, they are a massive gobbledygook of disjointed snippets. 

My dad on college graduation day around 1957. He's standing behind the house of our neighbor Mr. Mutter. No kidding: the guy was 100 and his name was Mr. Mutter.
 We moved from Erie to Greenville, Pa where my father attended Thiel College on the G.I. Bill. Working full time supporting my mother, sister and I, he graduated in three years second in his class. I returned to Greenville many times until graduating high school because my sister married there and stayed for about 12 years. Otherwise, I would never have gone back; and haven't since her family moved to New Mexico.

From Greenville it was on to Springfield, Ohio where my father attended a Lutheran seminary at Wittenberg University. I loved the three years we spent there. My father worked in several capacities around the university and I had full run of the campus. Whether it was helping -- getting in the way, mostly -- a sorority decorate its yard for homecoming, swimming in the field house pool or hanging out in the student union, there was always something going on.

So smitten was I with Wittenberg, it was my only choice for college. So, nine years after my family moved on, I returned to Old Mother WU for a four-year stint, partying, running around and generally wasting my parents' money. I've been back several times since -- although not in 10 years or so -- for fraternity reunions and the like.

Leaving Springfield during the summer between fourth and fifth grades, we moved to Wheeling, WVa, where my father was called by his first church. I attended three years of military school there. I did make some pretty good friends, but they were friendships that failed to endure beyond my family's two return visits after moving away. My last trip back was in 1974, when I took my mother to visit friends she still had there and I hooked up with a Wheeling girl I had dated briefly in college.

My dad accepted his second and last church in Louisville the summer between my seventh- and eighth-grade years. I lived there for 14 or 15 years, have scads of friends and manage to get back to visit at least once a year. Both my parents are buried there and I consider it home.

I tell you all of this because during the course of my scrounging through a couple of boxes of old photos, I stumbled across a couple of pictures of my house in Harborcreek where I spent my first three years. 

My first years were spent in this house on Buffalo Road in Harborcreek. My father built every bit of it himself.
 Among all sorts of other talents that never cease to humble me, my dad was a master carpenter. He literally built our Harborcreek home himself. This was around 1949 or so -- well before local governments became involved regulating home building. There were no inspections, certificates of occupation or requirements for a licensed general contractor. Nope. Dad simply drew up the plans, dug the basement and erected the house. He dug our well by hand. Motivated? You bet. It apparently skipped a generation.

I remember living in the house and remained familiar with it because when we moved, my parents sold it to my mother's sister. We spent summer vacations there for the next 12 years. I had last been in it in 1974, when my mother and I went to Erie for the funeral of her father Wildcat Harry. We called him that because land he donated to the state near Cane, Pa had been turned into Wildcat Park.

My grandparents house as it appears today. My old house is in the background. The paved road is a fairly recent addition. It's on what was once Wildcat's property and used to be just a trail back to his woods.
 My parents bought the lot from Wildcat; he and my grandmother lived next door. Behind their house was the hunting cabin Wildcat had originally built on the property. My mother's sister and her family lived there.

It wasn't until 15 or 20 years later, as my sister and I were in Erie for the 80th birthday party of one of my father's sisters, that I was in that house again.

The old family homestead as it looked about 15 years ago. I can remember from my time living there snow drifts piled up to the second-floor windows.
 Today it's a screen-printed tee-shirt shop. The several acres behind it and my grandparents old house that was once Wildcat's farm is now occupied by a church of some stripe.

Because it was business hours when my sister and I drove by, we went in and struck up a conversation with the owner. A twenty-something, he couldn't have been more accommodating. His mother was there as well. We asked if we could wander around; he gave us the run of the place.

Other than the conversion to a business, the main level was pretty much as I remembered it, albeit smaller. When we walked upstairs, though, my sister and I were both shocked by the 7-foot ceilings. Neither of us had any recollection of this oddity. I can sort of explain away my unawareness because I was pretty young when we lived there. My sister, however, lived there longer than I did and graduated high school the year we moved. Yet, she never realized the ceilings were remarkably low.

One of the memories I do have from living there are of snow drifts up to the second-floor windows. Ya gotta love that lake-effect wind and snow.

Yep, you can go home again, but often it's not all it's cracked up to be.


  1. I still can't get over that picture of you as a cadet.

  2. I could brace with the best of them. The negative was that I was virtually a year ahead of my ninth-grade class when I returned to public school. It was a boring year resulting in lack-luster grades and a few behavior issues.