I’ve spent more time in my hometown of Danville, Virginia over the last few weeks than I have spent there in the last 20 years.
Normally, I would go up there for Christmas Eve and maybe once more during the year. I had a four hour limit on how much time I spent there. That was to preserve my mental health. After about three and a half hours, I had to head for the border to be sure I could get across to North Carolina before they closed it. I lived in fear of being trapped there. I always did…
But times have changed. We have been in the process of moving my Mother to an Assisted Living facility, so I have had to spend a fair amount of time up there and I’ve learned a few things:
- You can’t go home again because home changes. Home is now our house in Greensboro where I live with my partner of almost 14 years and our furry children.
- Houses shrink. The house I grew up in seems so much smaller than it used to. It’s smaller than the house just the two of us live in now. It’s certainly not the McMansions most people expect now. But we survived growing up there. More or less…
- I don’t know anyone anymore. I went to banks and other places I used to go to and foolishly expected to find people there I knew. It never occurred to me they would have moved on. I guess I thought Danville was frozen in time as it was when I left it.
- Danville has changed for the worse. I know I keep harping on this, but I am shocked by how run down the town now seems. The shopping center where Value City and Harris Teeter was is empty. Piney Forest Road is the ugliest strip of real estate I have ever seen. And it takes forever to go across town on it because of all the bloody stop lights!
- There are so many old people there. Not just at my Mother’s Assisted Living place. There is no sense of youth and vibrancy. I like to think there once was…
- Neighborhoods change. Our neighborhood was one of the new post World War Two developments full of ranch houses and hope. The shopping center nearby had two grocery stores, a Woolworth’s, a Drugstore and a Belk Leggetts. Now the neighborhood is going rental and the shopping center is a joke.
- All the good restaurants seem to be gone. Except Short Sugars, the Dan View and Mama Possum’s. Only kidding. There used to be some good local restaurants and now they are all gone. All I see is chain restaurants. I don’t do chains. I would starve to death if I had to live there now.
- Dan River Mills is being torn down. I think this is what is killing the town. At one point, over 20% of the population worked there. Now it’s closed dead and gone. Taking the town with it. You can almost feel a tangible atmosphere that is a mixture of anger, resignation and defeat.
- Bitterness and isolation thrive when hope leaves. When I read the comments in the Danville paper on–line, I see so much bitterness and closed-mindedness. They seem to want to wall off the town and keep what little is left for themselves. How tight they hold the ties that bind.
- They don’t like outsiders- and now I am one. Unless you have pledged to stay there and suffer, you seem to abdicate your place as a Danvillian. They almost seem to view some of us who leave as traitors. So be it. I can’t count the times I’ve heard “you don’t live here now” as if it is a dismissal.
This makes me know I made the right- the only- choice to leave. But it also makes me sad. I never planned to stay there, but I always thought there would be something I recognized there to go back to. There isn’t. I don’t recognize the town or it’s people anymore…
Thomas Wolfe was right…you can’t go home again.
But when you look back, you have to remember the good friends, good times and family you once had there. Some of us are lucky enough to have to have taken some of that with us-if only on FaceBook.
And we have to be very grateful for the good times we did have there and how they made us the people we are.
We can not allow those memories to be colored by how time has ravaged what was once a pretty nice little town. We can’t be petty and bitter. We have to fight those Danville genes.
We have to create our own homes and our own families We have to look forward while still trying to honor the past.
And we have to wish Danville the best for the future.
It’s going to be a long journey out of the darkness for that little town….