Earl Hamner Jr. Was Right, You Can’t Get There From Here
By Richard Mabey Jr.
You Can’t Get There From Here is the title of a novel, which was written by the great author Earl Hamner Jr. It runs a similar theme to Thomas Wolfe’s novel, You Can’t Go Home Again.
At 61, I’ve begun to feel that pain, that ache, that you simply can’t get there from here. For me, the place that I feel that I can’t get there from here, is a feeling of growing up in small town America in the 1950’s and 1960’s. That sense of the old bakery, the sweet shop, the hardware store, the little barber shop, and of course the old Rexall drug store. Of going to Sunday School and church on Sunday mornings. Of going to the sweet shop, after church with Dad, and buying four or five Sunday papers; each filled with great comics.
The old neighborhood, the bike races, the go-karts, the tree forts and of course, the old clubhouse. There were the acres and acres of wooded land that stretched out for a couple of miles, behind the old farmhouses on Main Street. There was the joy of climbing famous Hook Mountain. The wonder and charm of canoeing the old Passaic River. There was that majestic feeling of climbing atop an incredibly tall old maple tree and looking out as far as your eye could see.
There were the old trucks that drove by Route 202. I would be with my old friends, we would jester the signal of blowing an air horn and the truck driver would blow his horn at us. Then, there was the magic of walking the train tracks on a summer’s afternoon. The splendor and free feeling of walking among the apple trees of the old apple orchard, grabbing an apple from a tree and sitting in the shade, from the sweltering sun, and talking with your buddies.
There is the memory of the old Morris Canal. Walking along the trail beside it. Imagining what it was like during the days when my Grandpa was my age and the old canal boats streamed along the muddy, murky waters of that dear old canal. The neighing of the mules, the musical note of the canal boat captain’s conch, the joyous clamor of the children aboard the canal boat.
There is the memory of the old canvas tent in the backyard. Sleeping out on a Friday night, in the middle of the summer. The comic books strewn around the sleeping bags. The old gang talking and laughing in the mist of the night, with flashlight batteries beginning to fade. The eeriness of the quiet of the night, broken only by the chirping of crickets and the lonely call of the whippoorwill.
There was that feeling of being free from the classroom, riding our bicycles to the gas station, on a summer’s day in July. The ding of the air pump. Air was free then. The old men, veterans of the First World War, sitting on the bench just outside the gas station. A car would roll in for gas. The attendant would ask the driver if he wanted his oil checked. The gas station attendant would happily clean the windshield.
The ghosts of childhood call me back. Gently, softly, I hear their voices. It is the voices of the old buddies, the sweet melodic voice of the girl who lived across the street, the reminiscing voice of the beloved grandfather, the squeaking sound of the rolling pin of my mom and grandma making apple pies, and the stern but loving voice of a strong father. Gone. Gone so far away now.
Sadly, Earl Hamner Jr. was right. You can’t get there from here.
Peace and harmony,