Larry Larkin wondered, wondered that night as 2012 turned into New Year’s Day 2013 why he had been fixated on that title from the long ago American novelist Thomas Wolfe and his damn book, You Can’t Go Home Again. Wondered too why over the previous five years, the five years since he initially tried to “go home, again” he had not realized the truth of that simple expression, had caused himself more grief that wisdom choking over every misstep in the effort. All of this wondering, aided perhaps by a few sips of white wine that he was sharing with his companion, Laura Hoppe, as the new year came in had been triggered by remembrances of the past year’s final (he hoped final) beating about the head over the matter when he had tried to attend his 50th anniversary high school class reunion of the Class of 1962 at Olde Saco High in the early fall at the Laurent Hotel , a place that back in the day had meant nothing but trouble including the location of his first marriage wedding reception. He had in the end wound traipsing with Laura into Big Sur canyons clear across the country on the weekend of the scheduled event. After churning it over in his head Larry thought, before the wine flowed too freely to his brain that he had better go back to the beginning, better go back to look how each step taken on that “go home, again ” trail had been fraught with portents of eventual failure. And that ebbing New Year’s Eve he at least knew that that road was now mercifully closed to him.
Sure Larry knew, knew way before 2007 when he caught the “go home” bug that he could not go back to the time of his youth in Olde Saco when even when things were tough, tough meaning the constant war between he and his mother, Delores (nee LeBlanc, descended from a long line of French-Canadian peasants he guessed they would be called, fellahin a friend of his, Josh Breslin, trying to be smart called them, who came down from barren Quebec to look for work in the mills and never looked back), there were memories, maybe good memories, that sustained him in bad times.
So Larry did not believe that year he was going to go back to that “go home” but he did believe that he could at least settle on an “armed truce” with that past. A past which included a very long period of alienation and lost contact with his people back in Olde Saco, a period of no contact by his own finally frustrated choice. One day in the mid-1970s he just decided that he could no longer take the punishing contact with the family, that it was better all around to cut his losses and so went his own way. But humankind is funny, or at least Larry thought it was funny that one day in 2007, one fateful day as it turned out, he had an intense hankering to settle with his past, find out what happened to his family, who was left and maybe try to reconnect. That one day was ordinary enough since what had triggered his hankering (his word) was the fact that he had had to return to Olde Saco to obtain a copy of his birth certificate in order to begin the retirement process from his job as a middle-level civil servant up in Augusta. So down to old town town hall Olde Saco he went. Of course since he had spent the time and energy to travel down there he knew that he would just had to stop off at Olde Saco Beach after he had completed his task.
As Larry once again began walking Olde Saco Beach from the Pine Point far end he thought this stretch of ocean front held many memories for a man who loved the sea, had declared at one time or another that his homeland was the sea, was the mother, snarly and holy vengeance one moment, tepidly ripple running to shore and gentle splashes the next, who never abandoned him, draw what conclusions you will from that. Mainly that cold early April day in 2007 he thought about how many times when he had had some “unresolvable” beef (unresolvable then although now, having gone through the same set of experiences with his own kids he chuckled over that word) he would walk the mile to the beach from his shack of a growing up house over on Atlantic Avenue and endlessly walk until he calmed himself down (later in high school where he was a track athlete he would run that distance but the brooding walking followed, followed as day to night). The beefs always over wants, wants of one or sort or another usually over him wanting something, clothes, date money, tickets to something, could have been anything, and she, Delores, pulling the hammer down with the definite “no.” His hard-working hard-pressed shadow figure father in the background backing her up, backing her up without question. Other times the beefs were of a more serious nature, trouble nature, trouble at school, trouble after school hanging around with his corner boys, mostly thieving Irish kids, trouble with the law, mostly small unarmed felonies, trouble, trouble as he squandered half his young life gnashing his teeth against grabbing those from hunger want. It had been a close thing, a very close thing, indeed that he had taken the judge’s, old Judge Matthews over in the Arundel District Court, choice of enlisting in the Army over time at Shawshank, seeing afterward what had happened to a few of his corner boys, Clipper Johnson, George Kelly and the late Jimmy Dubois, as they edged their own paths to the big house.
No question, and here he was not giving into any false nostalgia, or at least he did not think that was but there had been some good times too, mostly early on, but still good times. Yeah, those trips to the beach with the family and the inevitable barbecues as his father gave his mother (and maybe himself) a break from cooking, her an indifferent cook at best harried by short father pay check money to feed five growing kids, he could still smell those smells now all charcoal and warmth. Those runs down to York Beach and the amusement park when he was fascinated by his first run-in with the corner boy pinball wizards who populated the arcades during the summer. Trips to Boston, trips to lots places in the area which made up, a little, for a nerve-wracking home life. Yeah, those early days held much promise before he came of age and the Delores wars started, started him out the door to hang around with the guys at Lebreque’s Drugstore (and later Jimmy Laurent’s bar where Jimmy did not ask questions about age but only the color of your money). So after walking the length of the beach for the umpteenth time in his life Larry got a small hankering. That hankering enlarged when he surreptiously drove pass the old growing up shack of a house on Atlantic Street and found that the house was no longer there but had been replaced by a high end three-unit condo complex. He did not bother to check to see if any unit belonged to Delores and Paul Larkin since no way could they have afforded such digs. Besides he was too afraid to go near the premises in that neighborhood in the unlikely case that some old neighbors might recognize him. Yeah, it was like that.
Then one day a few week later, out of the blue, he began a Google search the old town newspaper, The Olde Saco Tribune, to see if any of his people other than the one outlaw older brother he was still in contact (and that relationship too had stormy no contact periods), William were still around. William then in assisted living quarters in Wells after a long career of petty armed robberies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire which produced a long career in various state penal institutions nixed any involvement in the search having his own dank memories and beefs. Yeah, he developed a hankering to see who was still around (including the extended family many of whom on his mother’s side had lived in the Olde Saco area after the huge migration out of the Quebec farms to work the mills and on his father’s side too, working the mills that is, including him). There the beauty of the Internet, even the now outdated capacities of the 2007 Internet came to the rescue. That search brought forth information from the on-line Obituary section that an uncle, Lawrence Larkin who he was named after, had died in 2005 after serving many years on the Kennebunk police force. That was his uncle, no question. More importantly, among those in attendance at the funeral was one Delores Larkin, although no mention was made of his father, Paul. Delores was listed as being from South Portland and so on a whim he checked on-line to see if a land-line telephone was listed in her name. Bingo, there was one listed under her name. Larry thought this whole exercise had been way too easy, he had been prepared to go to a detective agency if necessary and here without two hours he had located his mother.
Then the real crush began. Should or should he not made the call to confirm that identity. Larry literally held his breathe for a moment and dialed. An older woman’s voice (his mother would have been in her late 80s by then) answered and he made his identity known. As he found out later from a sister his mother had thought that he (and that brother in Wells) were dead and so she had been confused, not sure who she was talking to and told him to call back later when his sisters Maureen and Cecelia would be home. A couple of hours later even before he had a chance to call back his sister Maureen called him (another virtue of modern communications technology-caller identification) and in no uncertain terms asked him what the hell he wanted after all these years. The conversation, which lasted about an hour, or he thought it seemed that long, provided information about his father’s death in the 1980s and the deaths of other close and extended family members, including his other brother Prescott in 2003.
Beyond the family information Maureen expressed bitterness that Larry who had been able-bodied, had after all made something of himself up in Augusta (after he provided his own life information to her), and who had no good reason not to have been in contact should trouble (her word) their mother now. She and Cecelia had spent the time since their father’s death providing for their mother’s welfare, including the previous several years her living with Maureen and her husband. When Larry expressed an interest in seeing his mother Maureen cut him off at the knees. She, they, left the situation like this. She and Cecelia would explain the situation to their mother and if she wanted to see him then they would think about giving their consent. They would contact him if they did so. The old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” brush-off gave Larry a knot in the pit of his stomach, and a feeling, the first of what would be a long line of such similar feelings, that he would not be able to “go home” again.
And so it came to pass. In late 2007 he received a phone call from a cousin, Peter LeBlanc (or rather his companion Laura received a phone call because he was then down in Boston at a conference), telling him that his mother had passed away, had passed away a couple of days before in a Portland nursing home and that the funeral would be the following Saturday at Saint Anne in Olde Saco. (Peter had also used the Internet to find Larry since he too had been on the outs with his family, and with Maureen who refused to give him Larry’s telephone number. Hail Internet, for some things anyway.) Here was the hard part for Larry to take, he knew when neither Maureen nor Cecelia called back that time he would not get to see his mother alive but Peter made it clear that Maureen and the rest of the family under no circumstances wanted Larry or William at the funeral services. So the curse would extend to the grave, beyond the grave. Larry took that knowledge hard for a while, although he and William did visit the fresh grave of his mother (and the well-worn graves of their father and other brother) at the family plot in Scarborough and thought no more about it, or better, did no more, knew then he could not go that way home again.
Truth. Larry, smart enough to know that chapter was over, closed, still had this empty spot, or as he told Laura, this world-historic need (he really does say stuff like that) to dust off, to salvage some part of the long ago past, to make sense of the shut-out that he had just faced and what that meant to him. That is when he got to thinking about his old close corner boy from back in the days, going back to elementary school times on Atlantic Street, Kenny Bradley. Funny one night in early 2008 when filled to the brim with melancholia he thought about those times when his mother who had worked at Mister Jiffy’s Donut Shoppe in Biddeford for a few years filling jelly donuts to help make ends meet when his father was having trouble finding work after the mills started closing down and heading south, or wherever they headed to get cheaper labor used to give Kenny a bagful of day-old donuts to take home when he came over to the house. Even in high school when all hell was breaking loose in Larry’s life and it was that close thing about a life of crime that drove the main wedge between him and his parents Delores Larkin could do no wrong in Kenny’s eyes based on that childhood kindness.
He had thought to himself that night that he had been thinking about Kenny for a while, about what had happened to him, where he was if he was alive, ever since he had received an invitation to attend his 40th anniversary class reunion since graduation from Olde Saco High. He had hemmed and hawed about going to the event before backing off but that invitation had been the first time he thought seriously about getting in touch, although like a lot of things in Larry’s life he let it slide until the finality of his mother’s death brought lots of stuff to the surface. He would find himself softly singing a verse from old 1960s folk minute singer Tom Paxton’s song, I Can’t Help But Wonder, a song they both had loved back then, “I’ve got a buddy from back home but he started out to roam and I hear he’s out by Frisco Bay…and I’m going out to see him some old day, ” since Frisco had been the last place they had run into each other after Kenny had gotten out of the Navy and decided that he would start fresh in the West like lots of their kindred had.
And here is where modern communications technology came in again after Larry had been unsuccessful in finding out Kenny’s whereabouts through a member of that 40th anniversary reunion committee who had wound up as the secretary to the headmaster of Olde Saco High and privy to any information that might be easily accessible about him. He tried a straight Google search finding eventually that Kenny’s parents had both died and since he was an only child that kind of cut short some other possibilities. Along with the search for Kenny Larry was also in something of a memory writing mood putting together some small sketches remembered from his youth about high school dances, the lovers’ lane at Squaw Rock down at the isolated end of Pine Point, hanging out with corner boys, strange dating girls hassles, football rallies, all pretty much directed back to old high school days.
Frustrated Larry Googled Olde Saco High School Class of 1962 to see if he could get anything from that end. Eventually he got to a generic all-America, maybe all-world, although he never checked that far, commercial website which for a small fee would “connect” you with your class. Larry paid the freight and for his efforts found his class listed, and more importantly a list, a fairly current list of all the members from his class who had joined the site. And bingo once again there was the name Kenneth Bradley. The way this site worked is that you or whoever you were trying to contact needed to pay that damn fee to be able receive private e-mails and so Larry did pay and sent the e-mail with a short message to Kenny and a way to contact him. A couple of days later Kenny telephoned him from Boston where he was running his own contract painting company and doing quite well. They cut up old touches for a couple of hours agreeing to meet in Boston a week or so later when Larry would be in Boston for another of his endless conferences. They met at Joe’s American Café in the Back Bay and while they both had grown stouter, and had lost some hair, unlike many of Larry’s old acquaintances they easily recognized each other on meeting. They had a good night with good food, good drink (they had been notorious drinking partners even in high school which got them both into more than one of those “trouble trouble” situations that dotted Larry’s youth. The highlight was that Kenny had brought his very own copy of the Olde Saco Magnet, their high school yearbook, and had many a nostalgic laugh over this and that. Of course Larry had been so alienated upon graduation, as well as having a few grand larcency charges hanging over him which would be resolved only by his taking the Army part of old Judge Matthews Army or jail options, that graduation night drunk as skunk he had thrown his copy in the Scarborough River and good riddance.
Larry and Kenny had been from elementary school days until that last time Larry had seen Kenny in Frisco as close as two guys could be without being brothers. The had laughed when Kenny made a comment at Joe’s that they probably were the only heterosexual guys in the class (maybe the school or town even) who people wondered about whether they were gay (or to use the term used then in sublime ignorance, “fags”). That Boston night had been the highlight of their reunion although they met several times after that over the next several months for dinner, to watch sports which Kenny was still addicted to, and a couple of times Kenny had joined Larry and Laura at concerts (one a Bruce Springsteen concert down in New Haven) but the old comradeship seemed to be lost, lost like that closeness vanished in the bay out there in California. During this time Larry began grinding his teeth when Kenny would endlessly talk about his painting business, about the stock market that he dabbled in, graphic detail about his sexual conquests, more endless talk about sports and frankly stuff that Larry had either lost interest like sports or never cared to talk about and from his end would be reduced to bringing up some old time flame, caper or incident from high school days to fill the time. Larry sensed that maybe Kenny realized too that they had gone very far away on their separate ways, and after dinner one night in York Beach in early 2009 they had parted saying they would give each other a call soon to get together again. They never did and that “go home” episode passed into dust.
Although Larry felt the Kenny connection drifting away he still was producing those small sketches about life, mostly high school life, in the old days in Olde Saco and placing them on the appropriate section of the class website. Several of them, especially about the local custom of searching for “submarines” from the backseats of ’57 Chevys at Olde Saco Beach at night (the reader can be presumed to be able to be figure that one out), the infamous grapevine that provided much needed intelligence about who or who was no “going steady” centered in Monday morning before school talkfest, and the night life at the Olde Saco Drive-In and Jimmy Jack’s Diner on Main Street grabbed a great deal of comment and reply. Some of them so he heard later from a woman classmate who had read them at the time would become the talk of his class.
All done good-naturedly, all done with trying to fill some empty hole in him, and maybe them. Then the hammer fell. Misty Gordon, Class vice-president, head cheerleader, chair of the senior dance and prom committees, assistant editor of the school newspaper The Ocean’s Edge threw down a gauntlet, made a comment, very pointedly after forty years later like she had been holding it in for that whole period of time to the effect that who did Larry think he was, a guy who got into nothing but trouble as everybody in town knew and tittered over and never did anything to help his class now wanted to proclaim himself the quote “ bard of the class.” Now Larry knew this Misty, you could hardly avoid her and her well-publicized exploits in a small high school, vaguely but had never spoken two words to her and said so in his very public reply. But he also said that “yes” he was trying to be not THE bard but one and wrote a funny (some thought it funny in the comment section) sketch about how he was perfect for the job, had all the qualifications of former ne’er-do-well, drunk, loner and non-participant so that some decades later he was qualified, over-qualified for the job. This created a firestorm for a while, a couple of months with the social butterflies, sports guys, and do-gooders siding with Misty and the misfits, nerds, loners, and outcasts giving Larry the nod. But he grew tired of an essentially useless argument with people he had not seen for many years and once again he had gotten that sinking feeling that this venture too was no way home and gave it up. For a while.
Larry let up, gave up trying to “go back home” for a while until near the end of 2011 with the 50th anniversary reunion the next fall (according to information that he searched on the Internet when he found the reunion committee had set up a private class website for the event) when seemingly undaunted despite the previous track record of failure he got some curious “mystical” sense that he could turn the tide this time. He made contact with the members of the committee on the website and offered to/asked to be on the committee. This is how the last indignity unfolded as told to an old classmate friend of his, Josh Breslin, one night who will at least tell it straight: