“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
The crumbling marquee of the Sky Vu Drive In is all that’s left … just a perch for a hawk. I was happy to see it, but not surprised the rest was gone.
I was back for a funeral, my first trip home in 25 years.
The drive-in on the western fringe of Russell, Kan., brought memories of hot summer nights, tomato beer, cruising Main on my Honda and hanging out with my closest high school buddies.
There had been four of us; and now there were three.
The skeleton of the old Sky Vu sat forlornly off old Highway 40 across from the Log Cabin Inn, a struggling but familiar watering hole that had occupied a few of my adolescent nights all those years before.
I snapped two shots and didn’t even see the red-tailed hawk until much later. Sometimes things just work out.
I was unsettled about the funeral the following day. Jerry’s death had been a shock. And, sadly, my first impulse had been to send flowers and stay in Texas. After all, our relationship of the past four decades had been only a cordial long-distance exchange of Christmas cards. His life had taken one direction; mine another.
My friend had fallen from the sky to the Kansas prairie, victim of a freakish small plane accident not a soul could understand. It would take months for the FAA to speculate on what had caused him to be pulled from the cockpit of his small plane.
But I needed to be there. A chapter of my youth was closing. And, just the day before, I had decided to make the long drive north.
The funeral would be the following day, but no one, not his widow Judy nor even my oldest best friend Denny, knew I was coming.
Tomorrow, I would hug Judy and joke with her about being best man at her “hippy wedding.” I would shed tears with Denny as we remembered our friend and, afterward, laugh together over beers at his home and remember the comfortable quaintness of small-town Kansas before Vietnam and Watergate.
I would see a handful of old classmates and strike up friendships that had not existed before that day. I would hug Judy’s little sister Sharon, the freckled teenager who had flooded me with sweet letters from home when I served in Vietnam and offer a much-belated thank you.
And I would bid goodbye to a man whose life had been the stuff of novels — a VISTA worker run out of Mississippi by the Klan, a Navy Seal in Southeast Asia, a pilot who loved to fly and built his own experimental airplane, a man who loved technology and whose career at IBM saw computers go from massive to miniature.
But that would all come tomorrow.
Tonight, as the sun drifted low in the west, I would be a quiet observer, haunting the familiar brick streets of my hometown, reliving memories and growing pains — an old guy in a Texas truck cruising Main, snapping photos as the light fades and grabbing a root beer float at the A&W.
They say you can’t go home again.
Yes, you can, but it won’t be the same.
It would be a shame if it was.
Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His column runs each Sunday. Thanks for reading.