The novel tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill. The book is a national success but the residents of the town, unhappy with what they view as Webber’s distorted depiction of them, send the author menacing letters and death threats.
Wolfe, as in many of his other novels, explores the changing American society of the 1920s/30s, including the stock market crash, the illusion of prosperity, and the unfair passing of time which prevents Webber ever being able to return “home again”. In parallel to Wolfe’s relationship with America, the novel details his disillusionment with Germany during the rise of Nazism. Wolfe scholar Jon Dawson argues that the two themes are connected most firmly by Wolfe’s critique of capitalism and comparison between the rise of capitalist enterprise in the United States in the 1920s and the rise of Fascism in Germany during the same period.
George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town, he is shaken by the force of outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and lifelong friends feel naked and exposed by what they have seen in his books, and their fury drives him from his home.
Outcast, George Webber begins a search for his own identity. It takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of expatriates; to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under Hitler’s shadow. The journey comes full circle when Webber returns to America and rediscovers it with love, sorrow, and hope. (Quote source here).
Two weeks ago I returned to my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, and discovered that one can, indeed, go home again after being gone for a long time. My last post, “A Love Song,” published on October 9, 2015, was written at my dad’s home in West Des Moines after I drove from Orlando, Florida, to Des Moines (my hometown) in a scant 29 hours with three of those hours spent in a rest stop in southern Illinois to catch some sleep. I returned home to attend the wedding of my youngest nephew and his new bride, which took place this past Saturday on October 17th. The wedding took place at a Lutheran church in Slater, Iowa, and it was quite beautiful, and the newly wedded couple are a handsome match. I was also able to see family and friends I had not seen in years, and some of them I hadn’t seen in well over two decades.
My last trip to Des Moines was when I was still working in the fall of 2005. My stepmother was still alive at the time, and I usually made annual trips to Oregon each summer at the same time that my dad and stepmother planned their annual trip each summer to see my older brother and his family who lived there. Hence, I made trips to Oregon more often then I did going back to Iowa. However, since the demise of my job in Houston in April 2009, I have not had the financial resources to visit family in Iowa and Oregon since I live in Florida. My older brother did spring for a plan ticket at Christmas 2011 and I was able to spend eleven days in Oregon at that time.
This most recent trip back to Des Moines was sort of a “spur of the moment” decision. I knew I couldn’t afford to buy a plane ticket in order to attend the wedding so I mailed a wedding card with a gift card to Target enclosed two weeks before the wedding. I told my nephew and his soon-to-be bride to spend it on something fun to celebrate their marriage, and to let them know I was sorry that I wasn’t able to attend their wedding. It would have been the first family wedding I missed.
If you are a regular reader to my blog you’ll know that for the past year (since the end of September 2014) I’ve been living in hotels while trying to secure more affordable senior housing only to find waiting lists longer then I ever possibly imagined. All of my attempts during this time to find more affordable housing in its many various forms including responding to ads on the popular online Craigslist both in Houston (when I was there a year ago) and in Orlando have fallen flat so far. I can’t seem to get any serious responses to either my responses to ads that have been placed for furnished apartments or to ads I have placed on Craigslist seeking housing.
Since I have been currently living in a hotel for several months in Orlando since returning from my three-month (14 weeks) venture in Houston at the beginning of 2015, I woke up one morning almost three weeks ago and realized I had no reason to stay in that hotel any longer, and I decided to pack up my possessions I had with me and drive to Iowa to see family again and attend the wedding. All of my family would be attending, including family living in Oregon and California, and it was my chance to see them again in one place and at the same time. And that is exactly what I did.
I love taking road trips so that wasn’t even an issue for me. My eleven-year-old Honda Civic was in need of some maintenance type service (new timing chain, water pump, etc.) and my family in Des Moines knew of an auto mechanic shop where the work could be done at a very reasonable price. In fact, my dad paid for the repairs plus a set of four new tires, too, that I never expected and I couldn’t thank him enough for doing that for me. And it was accomplished at 1/3rd the price I was quoted for the timing chain alone in Orlando in April 2014. In fact, two different shops in Orlando recently told me I needed shocks/struts at a quote of $611 at one place and $800 at another. However, the mechanic in Des Moines said I didn’t need them at all. Needless to say, the road trip to Des Moines ended up being a real gift to me and attending the wedding (my reason for driving to Iowa in the first place) was the “icing on the cake,” so to speak.
I was born and grew up in Des Moines and spent the better part of forty years living there before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in June 1992 when I was awarded one of two annual doctoral fellowships at Nova Southeastern University for the 1992-93 academic year. I also spent time living in Ames at two separate times in my 30’s while attending Iowa State University where I received my bachelor’s degree in 1985 and my master’s degree in 1991. The end of the fellowship year lead to a job with Nova in Orlando in July 1993 and the rest, as they say, is history. Due to job opportunities in Florida I never ended up going back to Iowa to live.
However, back to the present time. . . . I left Orlando at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 7th, and arrived in West Des Moines at my dad’s house on Thursday, October 8th, at 8:30 p.m. The long and fast driving trip left me both excited to be back in Des Moines and tired from lack of sleep and being scrunched in my car for all of those hours, so I spent Friday and Saturday resting from the long road trip. On Sunday, October 11th, I took a long drive around all of the places in Des Moines that made it my home for so many years. I drove past the house where we lived when I was very young before my parent’s divorce back in the 60’s, and I drove past the elementary school, middle school (we called it “junior high” back in my days there) and high school where I graduated in 1970. I visited my mother’s grave and my grandmother’s vault inside the building at the same cemetery. I drove out to Johnston (a suburb) and was astounded at the housing development that had built up in that area in the past ten years since I was last there.
Where some places had changed remarkably, others remained almost exactly as they were 40-45 years ago. The downtown skyline includes some new buildings, and the city has a whole different and very modern feel to it. A part of me wanted to stay a couple of weeks just to have a good, long look around as this was the first time in 23 years since I left Iowa that I had my own car with me (I always flew back to Des Moines previously) so I could do just that–take a good, long look around.
Of course, Drake University is located in Des Moines, and also my alma mater, Grand View College, which was a two-year college when I attended it back in 1977-79 for my associate’s degree, and is now a four-year university with graduate level programs–Grand View University. And it brought a smile to my face when I remembered that Iowa governor Terry Branstad is again the governor after many years in between when he was previously governor (1983-1999) when I lived in Iowa and at the time I left Iowa in 1992.
For two and a half days into that week after my car trip around town on Sunday my car was tied up in the mechanic’s shop and I was house-bound during that time. So I made the best of it and ended up walking to the Walmart less than a mile from the house when I was finally tired of feeling house-bound. The next day family from Oregon and California started arriving and there was a flurry of activities from that point on through the wedding and reception and even a gift-opening get-together this past Sunday at my ex-sister-in-law’s fiancee’s spectacular home with four acres (she is the mother of the groom). It was absolutely wonderful to see everyone again–almost like taking a step back in time yet we all are, obviously, much older now. Still, it is a good looking bunch of older folks, many with grown children. The last time I saw those grown children they were little kids, and now they are grown, married, and with kids of their own, including the youngest little girl who was only a week old.
At some point during this week I discovered that my best friend, who lives with her husband in Arkansas, was actually in Ames (about 30 miles north of Des Moines) and she had arrived in Ames about the same time I arrived in Des Moines. We met back in 1990 when we were both grad students at Iowa State University. Her father (a professor emeritus at Iowa State) had died a few years ago and her mother is still alive (she’s 96) and living in an assisted living facility in Ames, and she was back visiting her mom. I couldn’t believe my luck in that she was in Iowa at the same time I was and we didn’t even know it or plan it.
Fortunately, we were able to make plans to get together this past Monday and I drove to Ames to see her and to drive around Ames and ISU again after so many years (24 years, in fact, since I graduated with my master’s degree). It was wonderful to actually see her in person again and just like old times. The last time I actually saw her in person was when I lived in Houston when I worked there and she and her husband were living in Fort Worth. They moved to Arkansas when she retired from the school district several years ago. We’ve kept in touch electronically all these years as she lived in Texas for almost as long as I’ve lived in Florida, and now she’s in Arkansas.
Most of my family from out-of-town had left by Tuesday morning, and at that time I decided to head on back to Florida. I thought about paying for a week in a weekly-rate hotel and sticking around Des Moines for another week (since that is what I will be doing once I return to Florida since I haven’t found more affordable housing yet), but I had originally planned to spend a week in Houston after the wedding so I hit the road again heading for Texas. However, by the time I got to the Dallas/Fort Worth area yesterday morning I decided not to go to Houston after all at this time. So, I headed east through Louisiana and into Mississippi when I decided to stop for a couple of days in Biloxi which is where I am right now while I am writing this blog post. The Gulf of Mexico laps at the beachfront across the street from the hotel where I am staying at until Friday morning.
The drive from Des Moines to Biloxi was around 1100 miles, and the rest of the trip back to where I’m headed in Florida is another 650-700 miles which I will start tomorrow once I check out from this hotel. Two weeks ago I drove 1500 miles from Orlando to Des Moines, and by the time this trip ends I will have traveled around 3300 miles by car in just over two weeks. No wonder my body is tired!!! But it’s been good–all good; no, it’s been GREAT, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the alternative of staying in a weekly-rate hotel in Orlando where I have already spent way too much time and money just trying to find more affordable housing. And what I discovered is this . . .
You can go home again . . .
Yes, you can . . .
And I did . . . .
YouTube Video: “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts: