Thomas Wolfe Was Only Half Right


Note: I am taking a short sabbatical from reflecting on  public issues. This is the second of a two-part reflection of personal stuff.

 You can go home again, at least for a moment. 

Like George Weber in Thomas Wolfe’s book You Can’t Go Home Again, I wrote critical words about Arizona when I left  the state and moved to Asheville, NC.  A Phoenix reporter who had covered my career warned “You might want to come back someday, but you are burning your bridges.” He, too, was only half right.

Here is The Story

My career moved me around. As I migrated to places in the South and East, I always felt a call to return to the West. I was reared in the San Francisco Bay Area and still carry the liberal heart and leftward political leanings of The City. I feel at home whenever I am there.

My family roots, however, were first planted in Arizona in the 1880s by my father’s grandparents. Mom, Dad and I went to college at The University of Arizona, and like Dad, I went from there to the Navy. I returned to the state a married man in 1969, but left 18 months later to follow a career path that wound through Louisiana, Georgia, and Washington, DC, before returning to Phoenix in 1978.

When I left for good 17 years later, I kept a foot in the state by serving on an Arizona-based corporate board. The final strand of the Jamieson roots was pulled from Arizona soil when I didn’t run for reelection to that board in 2010.

Why did I leave?

During my years In Arizona I experienced many lifetime landmarks: our 1969 arrival in Phoenix as a newly-married couple seeking our place in the world; the birth of our first child; leaving for a job in Shreveport, LA, and returning in 1978 to work with the new Arizona governor. But by 1990 the Arizona I loved had changed. It became hostile ground for me, with a politics of xenophobic fear and right-wing anger. The natural wonder of Arizona’s open, expansive landscapes stood in sharp contrast to a narrow and restrictive social agenda. I, sadly, came to believe that I no longer had a place there.

After leaving the state I wrote in a blog post that “Arizona has become a retreat house, an Alamo, for those whose passion is not a better tomorrow but a return to yesterday’s status quo. The Arizona I loved will always live in my heart, but the Arizona of today no longer calls me home. So, I bid thee fond farewell.” It was these words in December 1995  that prompted my reporter friend to issue his warning about burning bridges.

Since moving to North Carolina I regularly returned for board meetings, short visits, and maybe a U of A football game. I enjoyed seeing old friends, basking in the dry desert heat, leading retreats at the Picture Rocks Redemptorist center, watching desert sunsets, and eating good Mexican food. But they were what they were—just visits, not a homecoming.

Last Week

Then, last week happened. I went to Tucson for a ceremony honoring a friend/colleague from my college days. I also spent three wonderful evenings with my old friends Tom and Marilyn. Richard, a dear friend from Phoenix, drove to Tucson and shared my two-bedroom Airbnb for a night. We were joined by our mutual friend Gail for a great dinner that was highlighted by an invigorating catch-up talk. The next day I had a three-hour conversation-filled lunch with Gail.

A highlight of the journey was a centennial celebration for Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix. My grandfather was part of that congregation 100 years ago. My dad was confirmed there, I was ordained there, and I served the church as both the deacon and as the Cannon for Justice. At the celebration I participated in a panel conversation with two former political co-conspirators, both of whom were firefighters. We worked together three decades ago to help create the Central Arizona Shelter Services, and we started a weekday school for homeless kids from the shelter in the Cathedral’s Sunday school rooms.

My conversations with Tom and Marilyn, Richard, Gail, Veronica, Frank, Nanci, Derrick and Mike; waking alone along the Rillito River path; taking a solitary hike in the Sabino Canyon; sharing delightful dinners that included Tom’s grilled Halibut, Proof Pizza and Mexican food; and being back in Trinity Cathedral merged into a powerful feeling of being home again. These were people and places that nurtured me, supported me, brought me up short when I needed it, and encouraged me to go beyond my self-set limitations. And, to my surprise and joy,  they still cared about me.

Now I am back in my current home, in our Asheville apartment with Kennon and close to our two daughters and four grandchildren. True home, I understand, is where my family is. But the bridge to Arizona has been rebuilt and I suspect that returning will never again feel as if it is only a visit.

This is what I know: It truly is the people and deeply imbedded memories that make a home feel like home.

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