You Can’t Go Home Again

My sycamore against a Carolina blue sky

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again has become an expression — better known than the novel itself — to describe nostalgia for a bygone lifestyle after moving on to something else … something “bigger” … something “better.” I first left my little hometown of Bishopville many years ago, first to go to a residential high school not too far away, then to college three hours away, then to grad school six hours away, and then to work in DC seven hours away. I came out of the closet, I went back to law school, I became a “big city lawyer” in DC, I met a Frenchman and married him, and then I pulled up stakes and went off to lead a bohemian life in Paris. Even after all of that, I still wonder how true that expression is —

Can I really not go home again?

Ten days ago, I traveled back to South Carolina to surprise my parents for Christmas. It was my third trip back here this year and, like all my visits, it has been a restorative experience. There’s just something about the quiet nights, the fresh air, the landscapes — whether swamps, fallow fields, or pine forests — that makes me feel at home. The sights, the sounds, the flavors, the sensations … the familiar sates an appetite deep inside that I’d almost forgotten was there. And when the time comes to leave, I’m full again.

Here’s a gallery of images from the last few visits to give you an idea of what it is about this place that makes it so special to me.

To open the gallery, simply click on one of the photos below (or on a white space if nothing appears). You will then be able then scroll through all of the photos in a larger format.

The post continues after the gallery.

As stimulating as life in Paris might be, the truth is that nothing inspires and restores me like a sojourn on that little piece of earth where I grew up. Now that my parents are older, and the repeal of DOMA seems less like a hazy dream, I’ve started to seriously ponder what it would be like for me to live here again. Could I do it? Could I bring Michel here? Could he survive that? Who knows? It’s far too early for us to say right now. What I can say, though, is that — like that sycamore in my folks’ front yard — my roots are deep in this sandy Carolina soil, and I have to come home to nourish them …

can go home again — if not for good, at least for a little while — and for what remains.

© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

7 thoughts on “You Can’t Go Home Again

  1. There’s a word for this in French–“se ressourcer,” that a colleague taught me just before I went back to Texas for my last visit. I don’t think there’s as good of a word for it in English!

  2. Je Parle Americain,
    I was doing some research for my family tree and as I was going from one website to another I was taken to yours. My name is Curtis DuBose and all of my father’s family were from and buried at Cypress Crossroad in Lee County, SC. My father was born there and I have an uncle’s widow, who still lives there. Another uncle, Max DuBose, taught school and coached at Bishopville High. His wife, Barbara Ann taught at Robert E. Lee Academy. Their children Marie and Max are probably older than you are. Marie is 57, born in 1958, the same year that I was. I was born in Florence, lived 12 yrs. in Darlington and then my jr. high and high school years in Dillon. I spent several summers putting in tobacco at Cypress on my uncle’s farm. I see that you are descended from the same Isaac DuBosc that I am. I can appreciate your love for that area of the world. I was just through there earlier this week. I am a Presbyterian pastor (still reformed liked Jean Calvin!) in Greenville, SC. I have a wife and 4 kids but have another similarity with you – I realized in my early 30s that I was attracted to men more than I was women. It is interesting to me that we have so much in common.

    1. Hi Curtis, thanks for the comment! It’s a small world indeed because I knew your uncle. Coach DuBose taught me history when I was in school In Bishopville! I went to through the Lee County public school system until 1988, when I went to the SC Governor’s School for Science and Math for my last two years of high school. The path after that was fairly long and twisting, eventually taking me to France. But, as I write here, I always come back to Bishopville to see my folks. It’s a pleasure to meet you virtually, Curtis – distant cousin. Feel free to contact me by email as well at michael@jeparleamericain.com. All the best, Michael

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