But I did. And it was terrific.
My brother’s birthday was an occasion for a family reunion. Since I was flying across the country and hadn’t done much book promo on that coast, I decided to stay a month and cold call on bookstores and libraries to bring my two medieval romantic suspense novels to their attention. I started in the northeast side of Pennsylvania, traveled to Wilmington, Delaware, then into New Jersey, and towards the end I traveled over the state line into New York. All along the way, I said hello to family and friends I hadn’t seen in years.
My next goal was to set up talks with reader groups, at libraries and in bookstores. Nine organizations responded that they could accommodate me as speaker within my travel timeslot. One of those that replied was my hometown library. I was offered a signing and talk. Since I had a positive response from the library, I decided to ask to give a talk at the high school and was invited to speak the day before my library talk. Terrific. Bunched like that both talks worked well into my travel commitments.
So it was that soon after my arrival on the east coast I found myself early morning one spring day driving on the northeast extension of the PA turnpike. As I drew closer to my hometown, more and more places looked familiar until I eventually found myself reviewing in my head what happened in a particular town or building one day so long ago.
As I drove the curve of the highway that reveals my hometown nestled in the cleft along the river, memories flooded in from so many years before when I had just graduated my small town high school and had gotten a city job. I had to learn to travel to the city by Trailways bus and to the room I had rented on Roosevelt Avenue by trolley car. Scary adventures for me until the travel became routine.
The main street of town with the county courthouse, bank and hotel looked the same, but the metal diner with its red leather booths each having its own jukebox (with the old-time records of the 40’s and 50’s, not the digital kind) had been torn down. That made me sad since it had been in business the last time I was in town. It was a part of my high school years where we could stop for a fountain coke before walking home from the library farther up Broadway.
I drove past the railroad station where I left to spend summers in Michigan with my relatives and crossed the bridge over the Lehigh River to the east side of town where I grew up and where I would find the high school.
The high school building, situated next to Memorial Park, was as I knew it is, but a modern addition with parking and sports areas was added and is now the school entrance. Instead of graduating 37 like with my class, they now graduate a couple hundred.
It turned out the principle was the nephew of one of my classmates. I was escorted to the media center with its row of computers alongside shelves of books which included my high school yearbook.
Although the three English classes I spoke to were the first young adult talks I’d given about the publishing process, I felt very much at home. I spoke about walking the halls of the older building under the watchful eye of a principal who is long dead and whose name is now on buildings.
After my talks, I continued my nostalgic tour by driving around the east side of town to remember where things were and what had changed. My hometown church still looks the same with red paint and white trim, but it’s now a Masonic Hall. The dirt lot where my brother played baseball is a tended field with bleachers and permanent structures for supplies and a snack bar. The cemetery expanded farther toward the woods and the old dump. Three of my neighbors when growing up still live in town. One was at home and I stopped to chat. My home was bought by a young man who was fixing it up. He and his friends were on the front porch and he invited me in to see what he had done. I told him how things looked in the house and the yard when I was living there.
A nostalgic tour which did my heart good.
At Dimmick Memorial Library the next day, I found that my relatives, who live an hour away, had traveled to hear me talk. Two classmates living in town dropped by to have me sign books for their wives.
This Carnegie style library seemed huge when I was a child. Adult eyes see things differently. It is the original building with dark wood, but no longer with the hushed atmosphere of when I was young. Computers were available to update the 1890’s look.
The children’s section really tugged at my heart strings. My sister and I used to walk with my Aunt Mary to the library twice a month to get stories to read at bedtime.
The main part of my home town is now a tourist spot. After the library talk, I had a NY-priced hamburger in the home of a Civil War general restored to its former glory.
I spent the afternoon walking the Broadway Street shops and seeing the renovations to the American Hotel (now called The Inn). I didn’t see a single person that I knew from when I was growing up.
A more distant perspective from having been away for so many years allowed me to see the beauty of the town in its Appalachian Mountain setting.
So I did go home again. Instead of “former resident” I came as “published author”. That new status may have been the edge that made my visit so rewarding.
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