You can go back home
``You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood…back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame…back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time ― back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."
This is what George Webber, the protagonist, realizes at the denouement of the novel ``You can't go home again” by Thomas Wolfe. The book explores rapid change in American society during the 1920s/30s. The social situation in our country was quite similar to the time setting of the novel. This is one of the books I read with interest during my freshman year when I arrived in Seoul for the first time in my life, filled with great ambition.
Both in the Orient and the West it is customary that when the young leave country towns or provincial backwater cities, they are often filled with lofty ambitions, and aspirations of greatness. In search of the illusion of prosperity or success braving the unfair passage of time and in uncertain hope of returning in glory, they leave home.
Nevertheless, the glory they dream of when they leave home in most cases does not come true. Being deceived by illusion and deemed as failures, they fear returning home and home comes to represent an escape into Time and Memory.
Since I left my hometown, Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, about 40 years ago after graduating from high school, my visits there have been few and far between. For reference, Jeonju is approximately a two-and-a-half hour bus journey due south of Seoul.
Recently, after a 40 year absence, I began visiting there every weekend on business trips and each time I wonder at the changes that have taken place since I lived there.
The hospitality they show to strangers, the clean air which allows them to live without fear of pollution yet, and the kindness and humility with which they attend to newcomers, especially the generosity evident in the delicious and inexpensive food in every restaurant ― all these aspects are quite different from what I used to know. Until half a century ago, it was a place that was too conservative, unfriendly to strangers and not open-minded.
The hometown is like the father of the Prodigal Son in the Bible, who always keeps the gate to the house open for the debauched son who might return at anytime. Likewise the father has been always waiting for me with an open heart, who will return home, tired of living in a sophisticated metropolis, back to the confines of my previous way of life to relive my youthful memories.
Perhaps, Henry James got it right when he wrote in ``The letters of Henry James,” ``I haven't been there for long years ― was never there but once at all, but haven't forgotten how genial and sympathetic I found it. Drink deep of every impression and have a lot to tell me when the prodigal returns."
Now I have decided to return to my hometown Jeonju in five years which is still genial and sympathetic to me after a 40-years' absence and settle there forever.
Then I will sing the old song by Tom Jones again that I used to sing in the early 70s when I first left from there in search of an invisible dream:
The hometown will look the same
As I step down from the train
And there to meet me is my Mama and Papa........
Oh, I can't await the day of returning home for ever, to a shelter for the rest of my soul.
The writer is principal of Polyglot Day School in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province. His email address is email@example.com.