You can't go home again -- Thomas Wolfe
Somehow I don't think Thomas Wolfe was talking about his first kiss when he wrote that. But his famous line has been bouncing around in my head ever since I got back from my trip to Michigan. Kelly and I were there for some book business. Or so we said. But mostly, we were there to go home again. See, we were born and raised Michiganders, but have lived in other states most our lives. And the lure to revisit old haunts was strong. Not just the places where we lived -- we had done that already and yes, the houses were all smaller than we remembered. No, we needed to go Up North.
See, if you live in Michigan, you go Up North. In the summer, the population of Detroit and its burbs did its mass migration to places like Houghton Lake and Charlevoix and the UP. It was a culture of sand-floored cottages, fresh lake trout, pontoon boats and dairy queens.
Our divorced dad Al would take his three little girls to Houghton Lake every summer. By the time I was thirteen, I had found a summer love -- a gorgeous lad named Larry Dusseau who lived up in Mio, a blinking light town on the Au Sable river. Larry had a Honda motorcycle and would drive down to meet me at the Music Box, a teen hangout at the lake. I was in love with that boy. Achingly so.
During the winters, we wrote letters, mine doused in Heaven Sent, his in Jade East. I was certain I would never survive without him. Until...I went up north a couple years later and found out he had gotten married at 18. To the daughter of the man who owned the drugstore. I went there. She was behind the counter. She was beautiful. I let it go.
But not really. I googled his name year after year. Nothing. Then, this year, when Kelly and I were traveling up north again, we stopped in Houghton Lake. It had changed, of course. But so much was still the same, thank God. The old Sand Bar where our dad used to sneak off to after tucking us in was still there. And the dairy queen was still standing. But the Music Box had been torn down not eight months before. They are putting up a mini-mall they say.
I asked Kelly if we could go up to Mio. It was bigger, new streetlights going in and a full traffic light where the blinker had been. The drugstore was gone. At breakfast, I asked the waitress for a local phone book. She didn't have one so I walked to a park ranger station where the old fellow behind the counter found one for me. But I had forgotten my glasses and couldn't read the small print.
"Who you looking for?" he asked.
"Larry Dusseau," I answered.
He looked. "Nope. No one living here by that name."
But then he paused. "Wait. Seems I remember Mary Jo was married to some guy named Dusseau. He passed on five years ago."
The name echoed in my head. Mary Jo.
"Yeah...Dusseau. I remember him now. He was with the sheriff's department. He died of a heart attack, I heard. Did you know him?"
"Yeah, a long time ago," I said.
"She's working over at the realty place now. You want me to call her?"
"No, no," I said.
You can't go home again. But sometimes you just need to try.