So said Thomas Wolfe, that you can’t go home again. The place you left when you ran away, when you escaped that provincial town to tackle the big city, it ain’t what it was when you returned after college, hoping for free room-and-board against the punishing kick in the ass life gave you in the form of first-last-security-utilities-parking-employment taxes. Hey, mom, dad…I’m back. What happened to my bed? You’ve turned my room into a…tea parlor?
But the town was still the town and the things you thought were antiquated were seen with post-college eyes as quaint, even charming. Something you might have actually missed, on occasion.
Then, off to chase the dreams again. The next time you returned, well, ten, fifteen, twenty years had slipped on by.
I returned home this past week, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, on my book tour for BOULEVARD.
Everything had changed. Nothing had changed.
I grew up in Albuquerque, couldn’t wait to get the hell out when I was eighteen. Followed my dream to the Pacific Ocean. Everything about California was superior to everything in New Mexico.
But as time went on I realized there were a few exceptions.
Like, maybe, the food. Or, should I say the New Mexican Cuisine. Where were the blue corn tortillas? Hadn’t anyone heard of posole? Or sopapillas? Why weren’t the waiters asking if I preferred red or green? The question was heard all the time in New Mexico:
“Would you prefer red or green?”
“What’s hotter today?”
“The green is spicier, we got it in from Hatch this morning. Careful, it’ll burn your lips off.”
“Gimme the green.”
And what about the sunsets? Nothing like watching the sun set over the California ocean, sinking into eternity under a clear, aqua blue sky. Nothing like that to remind me that the best sunsets I’d ever seen were the ones in New Mexico. Big Sky country. With giant, puffy, layered clouds kaleidoscoping the color spectrum like an enormous Disneyland above your head, bleeding pink-orange-yellow-red-purple-lightblue-darkblue-darker blue-black as the sun finally, reluctantly, crept into the desert night to produce a sky blacker than space itself, then the sudden sparkling illumination of constellations overhead. Damn, I missed those New Mexican sunsets.
And I missed the adobe. Bricks of mud and straw. The humble roundness of earthen homes, unpretentious, traditional, embryonic.
Why couldn’t I find Navajo and Hopi Indians selling fry bread on the streets of Santa Monica? Where were the luminarios at Christmastime?
And where was the weather? I missed the instant, angry thunderstorms and the lightening that chased its tail across the horizon, the booming thunder ricocheting off giant obelisks of red clay and sandstone.
I missed the tender four seasons—enough snow to build a snowman or catch a half-day skiing on Sandia Peak, a gentle Spring, a warm, dry Summer and zero percent humidity. Los Angeles was perpetual summer, a Twilight Zone heaven to match the façade of perpetual youth and beauty that graced the beaches on hot December afternoons.
I missed New Mexico. But when I returned I found it wasn’t the place I remembered. What I remembered was my childhood. The people who inhabited it, the relationships I had, my mother, father and sister. My two dogs and four bullsnakes. The empty fields and muddy ditches and lizards and crawdaddies I used to catch. My first kiss, my first girlfriend, my first break-up, my best friend, my worst enemy. The used, 1972 Mustang Grande my mom bought me for $500 when I was sixteen years old. Scraping to find 32 cents every day to put just a little more gas in the car, every day.
I returned to an Albuquerque where my father had already passed on, my mother had moved to Mexico, my sister to Texas. The two dogs were in two-dog heaven. The snakes buried in the backyard of what was now someone else’s home. The fields were alternatively mini-malls or vineyards. The friends looked like the parents of the friends I knew in high school. Everything had changed.
And yet, I came home to a hero’s welcome. A 3/4 page, color profile piece on the front of the book section of the Albuquerque Journal. A welcoming committee of friends and relatives. An impromptu headlining act at the local book club. A full house, sell-out crowd at my signing at Book Works. The people of the town, the ones who hadn’t left, remembered me and chose to celebrate my success. They reminded me that, although I had left New Mexico, New Mexico would not abandon me.
I know now that I will move many times during my life. I will live many places.
New Mexico will always be home.
How about my little rati friends? What does home mean to you?
PS – I’m sorry I’ve been absent from the postings lately—I’ve been on tour and a bit overwhelmed. I’ll be in the air most of Friday, so I’ll sneak in as I can to check on comments.
Lovely post, Stephen
For me, home is not a place – it’s a state of mind.
If I’m with Andy, anywhere is home.
Dammit, Zoe, why didn’t I think of that? Now my wife’s gonna want an addendum.
Stephen, it sounds like we share the same love-love relationship with our desert southwest childhoods. Welcome home.
You can’t leave New Mexico, Stephen. Or, rather, you can ––– but it won’t leave you.
Corrales, two blocks off the Rio Grande, living in an apple orchard. Cedar Crest, halfway up the eastern slope of Sandia on The Turquoise Trail. May I walk in Beauty . . .
I really liked this post. I was raised primarily in Wichita, but my "home" still feels like Portland, Oregon, where I lived for about ten years before I moved to New York. I left when it was still the 1900’s but it still feels like going home and I always get the home-town welcome from Powell’s, the Oregonian, and my old friends.
When I was ten my family moved from Wilmington, CA to Santa Barbara (well, actually Goleta, but our address said Santa Barbara), and even though I only lived there eight years, I still consider it home. I don’t get to go back too often (it’s too far from Dayton, OH), but I don’t think it’s really changed all that much. The thing I miss the most there, though, is the weather!
By the way, Stephen, I’m currently reading BOULEVARD and enjoying it. I wouldn’t have discovered the book without this website. In fact, I’ve found a lot of new authors since finding this site.
Thanks, Louise. Did you ever read Edward Abbey’s "Desert Solitaire?" Great book.
Tom – man, I love Corrales. I lived there one summer – all horses and barking dogs and The Desert Rose and the Territorial House and that cute little post office and library. A really comfortable place. My favorite thing is the sign on the road that leads in – "Drive slow and see our village, drive fast and see our judge."
Alafair – yes, Portland is a special place. And Powell’s is the most amazing bookstore in the world. A full city block and four stories tall. I love that town!
Thanks for picking up BOULEVARD, Stacy. The Murderati group has been so good to me – I had pre-sales on the book simply because I was blogging here. It means a lot to me that you found me here and picked up the book. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, when you get the chance. You can e:mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And Santa Barbara is another favorite spot for me – the best little zoo I’ve ever visited, and the pier, with that Santa Ynez winery, I could hang out there all day (and have).
Ah, home. I’m with Zoe, so long as I have Randy, it’s all home to me.
The one place in the world that I feel like I can fully breathe is Colorado.I left something of myself there, and when I go back, I feel whole again. It’s weird.
I agree about Colorado, JT. I’m in the Denver airport now – did a signing at the Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch. It snowed yesterday – a light, gentle descent of heavy snowflakes, no wind, not even very cold, just that sharp, cool feeling in your lungs when you inhale. I stayed with a friend who has three acres of land, and a dozen deer pranced around his house in the snow. I do love Colorado. I used to ski Purgatory in Durango. I wouldn’t mind a few years in Boulder, either.
I’m right there with you. That spot is one of the prettiest in all of Denver, too.
And thanks a lot – now I am DYING for some good, REAL green chile. Mmmm….
What a lovely post! thank you.
Being with the one you love is, of course, home. I so agree!
But, like JT – I’m missing a part of myself which resides firmly and forever on the Eastern Shore of Maryland looking out over a body of water that never ends. It’s absolutely necessary that I get back there as often as I can in order to feel whole. Not weird at all, JT – I know exactly what you’re saying. Being there, for me, brings everything else in the world back into focus and perspective.
But. Like you, Stephen, man – I could not wait to leave that little town and hit the big city. mm mm mmm.
Dammit, Stephen! Lillian and I just got back from a week in Las Cruces, and we were homesick for New Mexico before we even got on the plane to come back up to Washington. This post DID NOT HELP!
New Mexico. It gets in your blood.
And you’re right, things are different, but. . .it’s home. And while it won’t be the same, sometimes you can go back despite what Tom said.