Author: Karsemeyer, John

You Can't Go Home Again?

Many of you readers have already experienced it. For those who haven't, some of you will, some of you won't. Attending your high school reunion is what it is. But not just any high school reunion.

I'm referring to the big one. Maybe the biggest one. The 50th. That's the big whopper. Why? Because it is probably the last one of any significance. It is really significant if you haven't attended any of your prior reunions because you get to reconnect with classmates that you don't recognize and don't remember what you did when with them way back when.

High School reunions are, generally, pretty much the same. Nostalgic, bittersweet, wishing you could go back and start over and study harder, and studying facial mileage lines that have occurred in others. Wishing you would have stayed with that former girlfriend or boyfriend because they still look so good, or glad you didn't because they don't. Telling lies. Rampant discussions of anatomy gone wrong.

If you moved hundreds or thousands of miles from your high school home town, haven't been there for decades, and go back, things will have changed. Sometimes there is nobody left there. No friends, no relatives, no teachers, no significant others, or land marks.

Unless you went to school in North Carolina, Tennessee, or Kentucky (or states like that) your reunion probably didn't or won't have much to do with stringed acoustic music that relates to bluegrass or what used to be real country music.

Probably not in California. Not in southern California. At least that's what I thought.

The reunion I attended last month was in Long Beach, CA. It's a town on the California coast about a thirty minute drive south of Los Angeles, if the freeway isn't clogged (not a kind of dancing) with commuter traffic. It's a town that rubs elbows with the towns of Lakewood, Bellflower, Downey, and Compton (not Mike the mandolin player).

If you weren't fortunate enough to be acquainted with a bluegrass band when you were growing up (I wasn't) in southern California in the 50's and 60's you wouldn't know that they were there. Heck, most southern California kids didn't know what a bluegrass band was. During that time, in some of the small pockets of that area, there were some significant births of bluegrass bands and individuals that are now well know.

Tony Rice started playing guitar there as a young man. The Bluegrass Cardinals were beginning. Clarence and Roland White, and the Kentucky Colonels had an early existence. Stuart Duncan (fiddle) and Alison Brown (banjo) were wearing diapers, but they were in that area. Steve Martin? Yeah, he started playing the banjo down there. I didn't know about all this until forty years later.

Anyway, at this high school reunion (I already mentioned) I discovered that there were some other paragons of acoustic music that made an informal visit to that area during that time of high school days. That time when they weren't known by the public at large.

My discovery of this occurred through a classmate at the reunion. I hadn't seen him for fifty years. We started our scholastic relationship in the third grade, and stayed friends through the twelfth grade. He taught me how to defend myself against elementary school bullies (one was a girl – I was small and scrawny). Anyway, at the reunion he learned that I played bluegrass music, and the following is what Pat Kelso told me had happened to him early on in elementary school, just a couple of blocks from where I lived.

Pat said, “Bob Carter, in our own grade, was a close friend and neighbor whose mom and dad were like my own. Duane Carter, Bob's father, always sat around on Saturday morning playing his guitar, accompanied by the family singing country songs he had brought with him from Texas or Arkansas. He was pretty darn good. One Saturday morning I was on their doorstep early and invited to breakfast. Mind you, we were just little guys at the time. They had cousins as guests that weekend, so they introduced me. The names didn't ring a bell till years later. Duane Carter was first cousins with Ma Bell Carter and daughter June Carter. They had brought with them a young, good looking boy by the name of Elvis Presley. Ma Bell was sure he could make it in the music world. Following breakfast they got out their instruments and struck up a concert in that little 600 square foot home like we all grew up in.” It's a small world, sometimes. But back to the reunion.

That 50th high school reunion brought to mind the phrase, “You can't go home again.” You cannot go back to that home of the best of times, the pain of adolescence, and the many relationships with friends and relatives. Thomas Wolfe's novel, “You Can't Go Home Again,” elaborates this phenomenon. The old home place doesn't exist anymore. Oh sure, you can visit the area, the buildings, and everything else, but the people with whom you made the memories are not there anymore (maybe a few).

But wait. At a high school reunion you can go home again, at least for a little while. You can see and connect again with some of the people who helped make your memories. The good, the bad, the ugly, and all of the other memories somewhere in between. But what good are memories?

Some neurology scientists have a theory that part of the brain cannot tell the difference between a memory and the real thing. If that's true our brains are like a time machine whereby we can go back and visit the places and people from the past. The places and the people who will be just like they were way back when.

You can't go home again? Yes, you can, sort of, in a way.

What are your high school reunion memories? Do you relive them once in awhile, intermittently, frequently, too much? Did any of your classmates go on to be bluegrass legends? Sometimes it is a small world after all.

Posted:  11/13/2010

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