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You CAN Go Home Again

Dear Rudy,

"You can't go home again." Thomas Wolfe's admonition made perfect sense to me until I came home. The notion that nothing remains the same, that people and places will be altered by time, is no doubt true. But is it necessarily for the worse? Could the experiences after my return actually be better than they had been before I left home?

After 20 years as a librarian in American schools in the Middle East, I returned to my native Kentucky in the summer of 1999, eager to become immersed in the life I had missed for so long. When asked at the end of those 20 years overseas why I was going home, my response was always the same: "To see the leaves change!"

Having grown up in rural Kentucky, the spring months spent in Arabia still woke images of daffodils and forsythia, despite the desert sand outside my door. Each October I could have sworn that I smelled the autumn leaves and could hear their crunch beneath my feet. January and February evoked memories of sledding, the muffled sound of a snowy day, and catching snowflakes on my tongue.

As the seasons were changing in the United States each year, I filled the school library with seasonal decorations: cornstalks and scarecrows in the fall, flowers and butterflies in April, and intricate paper snowflakes falling from our indoor heavens each January. I read stories about those seasons and the events that mark them, giving our desert-bound students who knew only the heat of summer a taste of autumn, winter and spring. It's possible, I told my first-grade listeners, to make a sand angel just as Peter made snow angels in The Snowy Day. Despite my attempts each year to create a world of changing seasons within the library walls, I never lost my yearning to once again experience nature's seasonal surprises.

Autumn in the U.S. this first year home was beautiful - better than I had remembered from my childhood. Although longtime residents proclaimed that it wasn't a good year for fall color, I delighted in every changing leaf. My husband and I drove through Kentucky and the southeastern states, enjoying mile after mile of hillsides streaked with the colors of fall. Winter arrived, and each time it snowed, I felt like a child again, bundling in sweaters and long socks for walks in the snow. And spring, glorious spring! Each day brought new blossoms, a new aroma. There were flowering trees and bushes I had forgotten existed.

Had the seasons been this wonderful when I was a child - or had absence honed my senses? Was coming home different and yet better? The answer to all these questions is probably "yes." The seasons were just as spectacular when I was growing up in small-town Kentucky, but my years away had deepened my appreciation for them. And yes, life in Kentucky has definitely changed in the years I was gone.




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