From Williamsburg to Gettysburg and Why You Can Never Go Home Again

There’s an old saying that “you can't go home again.” It comes from a Thomas Wolfe novel. And though I’m a fan of Southern literature, I found the book to be perfectly unreadable. So the phrase’s meaning has never been clear. For our recent vacation, we combined a trip to Williamsburg and Gettysburg with a visit to my old home in rural Virginia. I think I now understand the meaning of that phrase. Here’s my story of our old fashioned road-trip.

Beautiful murals of the Homestead Hotel in the Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs, Virginia. A must-see sight. 

Our first stop, once we entered Virginia, was my hometown of Hot Springs. Though my family has long since moved away, the 1899 Victorian where I grew up has become the King Family Victorian Inn. Our hosts and everything was elegant, right down to the breakfast served with crystal and china. But, more about going home later. Down the road, we toured our town’s resort, the Homestead. Part of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels group, it is a beautiful sprawling place, steeped in history. As part of our visit, we also swam in the 250-year-old Jefferson Springs and visited my old BFF Nancy.

The water at the Jefferson Springs really is this crystal clear and beautiful.

Next, we drove to see Yorktown, site of the last major battle of the American Revolution. It was hot as Hades that day. We drove the historic driving route in our air conditioned car and got out to walk quickly around the sites before running back to our car. The funniest thing of all was an entry in the Visitor’s Center registry where guests share comments. One person had written, “It is so hot I could cry.” That was it. Nothing about history or the park. We cracked up.  

Our trip went next to Williamsburg where we stayed in a Colonial Lodge right beside the historic area. The best part of all was walking the deserted streets at night. Looking through a Tavern window (tip: make dinner reservations in advance), we saw women wearing colonial caps and a man played the fiddle. It felt like a hundred years ago. It was eerie and thrilling.

By day, Williamsburg is a must-see site. It was preserved in time because of a passionate history buff with a big idea and a Rockefeller with loads of money. There are blocks and blocks preserved in the colonial period and reenactors. We were pleased to get our walking tour guide all to ourselves. We strolled at our leisure and learned all the great stories. Did you know Martha Washington was probably a babe? And a rich babe at that. It turns out that many scenes from the AMC series Turn on Washington’s spies are filmed there. And like proper parents, we endeavored to show greater excitement for the real historic sites than the filming sites. I think we pulled that off pretty well.

Gettysburg was our last stop and well worth a full day. We took a bus tour, but walking the hallowed grounds would have been even better. Many Americans died there and fought for their beliefs during the Civil War. The Gettysburg Address was of course delivered there too. The kids will hopefully remember that or at least the apples they fed to the re-enactor’s horses. We can only hope.

With this trip back through the past, I find myself thinking more about home. The house where I grew up was restored by my dad and mom. As kids, we spent our weekends helping sand floors, sheet-rock walls, paint, wallpaper and garden. 

As I walked around the old place, I found myself looking for traces of my family. I snapped a picture of an old bathroom heater switch my dad installed to show it to him. 

All touches of my late mother’s wallpaper are gone. But she would be pleased at that. Ever a woman of class and style, she would eschew wallpaper now too. She would certainly be proud of the elegance too. I told our host Mrs. King that. 

As I toured my mom’s old room though, I found myself whispering her name, “Mom.” Really. I did. I'm not kidding. I guess I was missing her. But she’s not there. She’s elsewhere, someplace better. But not there. My siblings, aren’t there either. They are all well and living elsewhere from California to New York to Georgia. But my mom, it has been a long time.

So from this trek through the past, I think I finally understand the bittersweet truth of why “you can't go home again.” 

It's because truly, home is only a memory. 

It really never was just a place. 

Margee Moore is a marketing professional and mother of two. She is author of the book, Sleeping with the Laundry and you can follow her on the Facebook of the same name.  


Popular Posts