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You can’t go home again

Father J. Ronald Knott

Father J. Ronald Knott

We have given up our homes. Jeremiah 9:18

The phrase “you can’t go home again,” from the title of a 1940 novel by Thomas Wolfe, has entered American speech to mean that once you have left your country town for the city you cannot return to your previous way of life and any attempts to relive youthful memories always fail.

I was born on Walton’s Mountain. Well, not really, but close to it. I grew up in Rhodelia, Ky., a small town that had a country store with a post office inside and two gas pumps, with about 25 inhabitants. My dad and granddad made a living operating a sawmill and dabbling in farming. We lived next to the store and across the road from my grandparents.

“The Waltons” was a popular TV series that ran from 1972 to 1981. It depicted the life of a Depression-era family in the mountains of Virginia from 1933 to 1946, during the Great Depression and World War II, during the presidential administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

The show is seen from the point of view of the eldest son, John Boy, who eventually goes to college and becomes a novelist. As the eldest son in my family, born in 1944, the first to graduate from college and now a writer, I am John Boy in my family.

Yes, I can go back to Rhodelia, but no, I can’t go home again. It seems that I go back more these days to do funerals for family, friends and former parishioners than anything else. With each trip, the old town seems to fade more and more into the past.

Our old house next to the store is gone, as are the homes of my grandparents, Wordie Greenwell, Kate Manning, the Medleys and Junius and Sally Greenwell. Miss Georgia Vessels’ house is falling down, stubbornly refusing to give up. The old store is closed and empty. The gas pumps are gone. But, believe it or not, the old post office is still operating inside the closed country store, awaiting its inevitable death sentence.

Old St. Theresa Church, two miles away, still stands proudly in view of its two cemeteries where hundreds of Catholic believers have been buried since the parish was founded in 1818. True, the school is closed, the convent is empty and the rectory holds no resident pastor, but the old church still sparkles because of some generous and caring parishioners.

Father Robert M. Abel (and now Father David J. Carr), Deacon Gregory A. Beavin and a handful of generous lay ministers and volunteers are doing their best to keep the faith fires burning. All the new homes I passed on my way down there keep hope alive.

As I drove back to Louisville recently, after another funeral, I remembered words from Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I also found myself humming something from the movie, “Camelot.” “In short, there’s simply not, a more congenial spot, for happily-ever-aftering, than here in Camelot.”

Father J. Ronald Knott

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One comment on “You can’t go home again

  1. Thank you, Father…I use that expression with my grandson now that he’s graduated from high school and lives in the dorm at college. He understood it the first weekend he went home for a visit. I enjoyed the visit to your hometown. Peace.

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