Around Hometown: Day 1


May 17, 2021, Saugus- Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again”. He was making the point that both the home and the dweller change over time, and thus the fit is never quite what it was, when the two were intertwined, in the processes of childhood and adolescence.

This could be said, in my case, as much as it could be said about anyone. There is, however, the corollary that aspects of home go with us, wherever we may go in the world. I may have, long ago, lost my eastern New England accent, and the relatively watchful guardedness around strangers has faded, somewhat, but I have taken with me the basic lessons imparted by my parents, and the other significant adults of my youth: Aunts and uncles, grandmothers, concerned neighbours, the best of my teachers and advisers.

The genetic memory of my grandfathers also has impacted the values I have taken into my being. Both men worked harder than they might have, but both were providing for large families. Grampy Boivin was with General Electric, and had his own small backyard farm-with poultry, rabbits and a full garden. Papa Kusch, who I never met in the flesh, worked as a shoemaker, then came home to tend his sizable garden. The children who they sired were, to a one, imbued with the finest of work ethics-which they, in turn, imparted to each of us cousins-some 80, in all.

I also learned, growing up in Saugus, the importance of neighbourliness and community consciousness. Looking out for the welfare of the whole, underscored by my being the oldest of five children, is hard-wired in me. What is also a part of that is the concept of teamwork. Being an individual rescuer, or playing the victim and expecting to be rescued by one or two people, has also not been something that has made much sense to me. Thus, my life has been one effort at team building after another.

My brother, his brother-in-law and I were a team for much of today. While I focused on clearing items from the upstairs rooms of our childhood home, the other two men were concerned with the larger first floor. Sixty-six years of full living were reduced to more bags of trash, donated apparel and curated family keepsakes, books and necessaries than I have seen since my own house-vacating, in 2011.

No, I did not go home again today, but I paid homage to a great house, which served seven people to the full.

On Differing With Ella Winter


July 3-7, 2019, Saugus, MA-

The fine North Carolina author, Thomas Wolfe, famously used, “You can’t go home again.”as the title of a novel, which he never lived to publish.  His associates took care of that, sometime after his death in 1938, and we have the title as one of the more memorable things with which he is associated.  The quote, though, originated with an Australian writer, Ella Winter, who gave Wolfe permission to use it in his writing.

I’ve been going back to Saugus, continuously, since I left here at age 18.  Service in the Army, college, a quixotic two years getting my bearings in Maine, and then Arizona, South Korea and back to Arizona, all have had a common denominator:  Hometown has never gone away.

There have been changes:  The population has grown, from 25,000 to about 38,000; traffic has increased accordingly; the once lily-white community has opened its doors to people of colour; Hilltop Steak House has given way to Restaurant 110; most of the neighbours have  died or moved away.

There are, though, things which endure:  My mother is still living, quite well; two boyhood friends still live in the neighbourhood-one  in his childhood home; Adams Avenue, the street of my youth, is still within walking distance of both Saugus Center and Cliftondale Square-as well as the West Side’s large shopping mall, Square One; traffic on U.S. Route One can still be daunting at times, though after dealing for so long with traffic in much larger cities, I know not to cringe.

We had the usual family gathering, this time at a niece’s large, beautiful new home, about 1 1/2 hours west of here and dropped in on a nephew and his family, in a town twenty minutes south of Saugus.   These visits are fleeting, but far better than not seeing these gracious, beloved people at all. There was a visit to the aforementioned 110, where I got my fix of fried clams, a boyhood staple.  There were the customary Hallmark movies and binge watching of old episodes of “Blue Bloods”, one of Mom’s favourites.  There was a surprise, when Mom decided to check out a couple of Marvel films, on SyFy.  She had enough, after “Iron Man”, but “Spider Man” was a hit.

I come from large families, on both sides.  There are many cousins, some I haven’t seen in years, and a few aunts and uncles still living.  The group will hopefully get together in late August.  Though I won’t be there, people have to start with what they have available.  I have been able to connect with a cousin in the Midwest, as you know,  and will hopefully make more connections, in future visits.  Gradually, the in-gathering progresses-with social media at least keeping the ties from fraying.

So, not to judge Ella Winter, for the circumstances of her life, but I CAN, and do, go home again. If nothing else, home remains in the heart.  We four, and our extended family, want Mom to keep on, so long as life offers her a measure of blessing.  May she keep the flame, until it’s time to pass the torch on.

NEXT:  Amherst and Its Halls of Learning



The 2018 Road, Day 35: One Good Ville to Another


June 29, 2018, Crossville, TN-

I sent a text message to an online friend in Asheville, who would not have time for a short visit, and another to a friend in Knoxville, thinking she might be joining what I figured would be a gathering of old Xanga friends, tomorrow, in this town in the western foothills of Appalachia.

I spent time in both cities, en route to my destination.  After bidding farewell to W, I headed north to I-40, then west to Asheville, stopping for an hour’s introduction to what is sure to be a key stop on future journeys across the South.  I have said, and meant, that about so many places, that I may as well hop on a Greyhound local and be done with it.  The thought is comforting, though, to say the least. It’s nice to feel welcomed, whether in new places or old.

Here are some scenes of downtown Asheville.   Here is the lobby of Asheville Community Theater, with its stage areas both to the right and extending eastward from the lobby.


From this spot, near my parking place, on the north side, I walked back towards the city center.  Art deco towers are not common in Appalachia, but the Jackson Building, built on the site of a tombstone shop run by William Oliver Wolfe, the father of novelist Thomas Wolfe, is such an edifice.


This braided girl, inspired perhaps by Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel”, is one of several statues that grace downtown.


Zebulon Baird Vance, like so many figures of the Confederacy, was a mass of contradictions.  He reportedly taught some slaves to read, though that was never confirmed.  A life-long Christian, he strongly advocated for total religious freedom, and fought against anti-Semitism.  He sincerely believed that freed slaves were being manipulated by the Federal government and needed a time of separation from whites, thus his insistence on imposing racial segregation in North Carolina, during his post-war term as governor.  This unfortunate series of actions has re-ignited a debate, as to whether his name should be removed from this obelisk, in Pack Square.  Asheville, in recent years, has been a socially forward-thinking community. So, the Vance Memorial is something of an anomaly.


One other unique feature of Pack Square is a series of farm animal sculptures, whose purpose is unclear.


West of Pack Square, there are a number of small cafes. Being in the mood for a Cubano, I chose Bomba Latin Cafe.  The place was a friendly introduction to Asheville’s active foodie scene and the sandwich was all a Cubano should be- freshly shaved pork, with shredded cabbage and small, diced bits of Habanero pepper, on a freshly-baked bun.


Well-nourished, I got back to my car, with six minutes to spare.  I got in one more full view of downtown, from Pack Square, before heading back onto the freeway. Asheville City Hall is visible, in the background.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I had plenty of company, headed west, as I-40 was packed with people headed to the Great Smokies.  Once past the exits to Boone, Cherokee and Gatlinburg, the sailing was a bit smoother. My primary stop in Knoxville was to service my Elantra, at Big O Tires.  Being expected in Crossville by 5:30, or so, I headed straight here, once the service was finished.  Knoxville has  several places of fascination, not the least of which is my online friend’s art gallery.  These wait for a visit more focused on that area.

Settling in to the serene home of L and C, I look forward to tomorrow’s gathering, however large or small it may turn out to be.