Dear Mr. Wolfe,
As a native-Ashevillian, I have known of your life and work from the moment I knew what an "author" was. I toured your homeplace, read your writings, sat on your front porch with a boyfriend, and even cried after your home was damaged in a fire. I always grin in recognition of your angel when I see her. I feel that you are woven into my story of childhood as a background character- despite the fact you died years before even my mother was born.
So it is with much respect and a bit of trepidation that I must admit: I disagree with you.
I believe, sir, that you can go home again.
I believe it... because I just lived it.
In previous years and trips west, I feel what your character Mr. Webber must have been feeling when he returned to his hometown to find it was not the place his memory had created it to be. This happened for me previously as I visited my stepmother at my elementary school and felt like the halls were much smaller than I remembered. It happened when I realized that some friendships were only going to exist for me in memory, rather than in current day. It happened when my parents were sick or passed on and I realized that a trip home would not include the usual events of my trips west.
However, my heart just experienced a truer sense of a homecoming. And it occurred without expectation. I ventured home for a lengthy stay- to hike and to clean out my Mom's house. Little did I know- because I had not made concrete plans- that my trip would also include a trip to a lovely local winery with friends... and checking out some venues that had been on my bucket list... and time with my girl and her dogs... and breathing in that miracle-working mountain air.
I was gifted the benefits of surprise and healing because I had not "planned" for them to happen.
I sat in the auditorium at Mars Hill College and "felt" the goodness of teenagers hellbent on changing the world. The pulse of that room stirred the same emotions in mine as I reflected on my first trip there 22 years ago. I realized how "ripe" I was for that first experience- my heart was freshly broken from childhood expectations being taken away and was ready to be filled with love and laughter and opportunity to become who I wanted to be. And as I was greeted by some of those same precious adults (who now loved on my daughter- also captivated in their midst), I felt the same encouragement and hope and respect from 22 years ago. They believed in me then... and I think they still do now.
I walked around my Mom's backyard numerous times. The overgrown weeds and bushes at first hurt my heart as I saw the lack of attention given to them by the absence of my mother. In later days, I saw the green growth for the beauty it is... lush and life bringing. I enjoyed watching my dogs explore that yard that I used to know by heart... and my favorite moment of the summer thus far happened when I had the chance to catch lightening bugs with Miss E in the very yard where my bug-catching-skill was perfected.
I walked through our fair city and pointed out sights and sounds to my precious girl- including pointing out your angel. One day soon, I'll share with her your writing... as I'll share with her the writings of Wayne Caldwell... and the story I just read of Zelda Fitzgerald... and I'll tell her of the importance that southern authors bring in telling the story of our home and the characters we meet here. I'll share with her the wisdom in your writings about not being able to return home- when you are expecting your home to receive you in the same way in which you left it. And I'll also share with her my recent discovery that when you allow your home and all of the wonderful people and experiences you gained there to welcome you in their overgrown and weedy arms... and breathe it in... and not expect it to do much... but to just let you be... then... then you know that you are truly home.
And then... maybe then... parts of your broken heart will heal in an old way that feels brand new.