It's true. You can't go home again. Sigh.
That's why I waited almost 10 years before going back to the Virginia peninsula where I was born and raised before leaving to come to Florida for a job at Walt Disney World.
For me, the area is filled with such wonderful memories but also of deep loss. I avoided it for a long time.
But I wanted to see my cousin in Williamsburg and I felt a pull to be back in the history-rich area where I grew up. As the late writer, William Styron told me many years ago when I interviewed him for the Daily Press, "no matter what you are writing about, you are writing about the first 17 year of your life." I believe those memories impact everything that we do. They are always there.
On this recent visit, I didn't go by Warwick High School where my dad played football and I danced with the Grenadier Band and Bagpipe Corp on the same field. I didn't see the old cottage on the York River where my mom, dad and little brother, along with our dog, spent so many afternoons in our tiny boat crabbing and clamming. And sitting on the screened porch watching storms, rainbows and sunsets. I didn't ride by the restaurant on Warwick Blvd where my dad worked extra hours so I could have braces.
And I didn't go by my grandmother's house in Hilton Village or climb up the long stairway to the ballet school (now something else) where I spent years taking dance classes. I didn't drive past the tennis courts in Huntington Park where my father taught me that people wouldn't remember if I won or not, but they would remember how I acted no matter what the outcome. And I didn't go past the Daily Press where as a young reporter, my father taught me to always try to see the other person's point of view. I didn't go downtown, where as a child, my mother and I took the bus to go shopping and had lunch at the Woolworth's lunch counter. It was a big treat.
I decided to let those memories and gentle, swirling ghosts of the past, stay in my heart, resting softly.
Instead, my cousin and I took a road trip to Smithfield and spent an afternoon with a couple who were dear friends of my family. Their 1780 home sits on the bank of the James River and is beautiful. We had soft crabs for lunch and walked through downtown Smithfield. And I ran into a classmate from high school who owns the Christmas Store. We drove past Bacon's Castle to Surry and took the ferry to Jamestown.
I had dinner with a longtime friend on the York River and walked along the boardwalk. Took a ride past the battlefields that my dad and I walked so many times because he wanted me to know everything about the history of Virginia and what it meant.
There was lots of time wandering through Colonial Williamsburg and although I hadn’t planned on it, I found myself in Bruton Parrish Church where my family had been many times. I headed up the aisle and decided to sit in Thomas Jefferson's pew and think for a minute. And suddenly an orchestra came in and had a rehearsal for a concert taking place that evening. It was a special treat. At sunset, I found the gate open to the Williamsburg Palace grounds and worked my way back into the maze, which in the second grade seemed very frightening but on this day was just a fun jaunt.
And we had lunch at Chowning's Tavern…a tourist thing to do. But I was a tourist this time and it turns out that Chowning's is where my cousin had her first date with her husband. It was the right choice.
I took long walks around my cousin's beautiful neighborhood, Queens Lake. And slept better than I have in months. Ran around with two Jack Russell Terriors, Snickers and Krypto. Visited Endview Plantation in Newport News (1769), which is the ancestral home of my cousin and her son. On a tour, we discovered that he looks striking like Dr. Humphrey Harwood Curtis, who acquired the home in 1858. We all wished we could go back in time for just a few hours to see what a day was like at Endview. And for a short time, we almost felt the layers of history that surrounded us.
It was a sweet visit and I found myself wanting to return soon.
This coming Sunday, I will be thinking about my father. He always said that when something sad happens, we needed to balance it out with something fun. So this weekend, I will think of him with my mother, brother and our dog on the river in our little boat catching soft crabs, swimming and laughing. Dinner will be great and I know the sunset will be spectacular. And maybe there will be a rainbow. I'll be at the beach looking for one.