Be It Ever So Humble… by
(166 Stories)

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

Both my partner and I often express our desires to return home. Each has a different version of home, having been born in widely separate locations, economic stability, and cultural surroundings.

My wife is from Manhattan. She was born in Greenwich Village and, when her family moved to a larger apartment uptown, she continued going to school in the Village. As a teenager, she came of age during the golden era of Village life: the bohemian scene, folk music and coffee houses, and all the lame, sexist bullshit that followed an attractive, very hip, politically aware teenager around in those days. In some ways, home to her is still the West Village. Of course, we have seen the Village change over the years, so her desire to go home again is drastically compromised by what the Village has become. We both love New York, but her family properties are gone, and any time we spend a few days in the city’s wintery weather, we look at each other and say “nice place to visit.”

I was born in Boston, but our family moved out to the suburbs as the first ring of post-WWII medical and electronic r&d industry began to form around Route 128, the first Silicon Valley. We moved to Littleton, Massachusetts a small New England town, rural before it became a suburb, a bucolic community full of cows and apples, lakes and forests, and old yankee farmers and mechanics.

A wartime entrepreneur named Ted McElroy, an inventor and the World’s Fastest Telegraphist, started a factory in our New England town, with my father as partner and electronics engineer. However, my father had been a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s, when many idealistic young people joined the party for altruistic reasons. Most of the new company’s contracts were with the federal government, and they weren’t having any Commie bastards building electronics equipment for them.

After my father was blacklisted, we probably should have moved back to Boston. Both my parents were intellectuals and progressive people, and there wasn’t much of a scene for that in picturesque Littleton, Massachusetts. But we stayed on, through my graduation from high school. On one hand, calling Littleton home was great. I was outdoors all the time, riding bicycles over the New England hills, exploring the forests, swimming in the summer, skiing in the winter. Many of my friends were the kids of farmers, so we built forts in hay lofts and got paid for picking apples and corn and boxing potatoes.

However, by the time I was 15, I had read Kerouac’s On the Road and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy, and a raft of other macho manuals, and I had begun to play folk music. At 16, I was driving in to haunt Cambridge coffee houses, mooning over a very young Joan Baez, and getting my mind blown by Jim Kweskin and Bob Dylan. I was ready to bust out of “home.”

After I graduated high school and entered university life, Littleton began to fade. My father died after my second year in college, my mother moved to New York to complete her graduate studies, and Littleton ceased to exist.

California beckoned. Although they had met in New York, both my parents were from California. My California aunts and uncles had kids who were my peers. By 1965, San Francisco was “where it’s at.” Every summer during college, I drove in an assortment of beaters, old station wagons, sedans, trucks, across the country to hang out in the San Francisco Bay Area, just as the scene was beginning to blossom. After graduation, I left the East Coast for San Francisco and never looked back.

In the 1980s, San Francisco’s progressive communities had fragmented and the radical arts scene had deteriorated. My partner and I migrated to Los Angeles. We’ve been here ever since, but, despite building a strong, creative life here, LA has never felt like home.

As we grow older, we are beginning to ask “where is home?”

I love our Hollywood house and its garden.

I grow nostalgic and love the beauty and dynamics of New England. I even keep in touch with some of my small-town school pals, but I doubt we’d move back there.

New York has changed drastically and, although we have many friends there, it would be one hell of a challenge to set up shop in Manhattan or even Brooklyn.

San Francisco feels the most like home — the Bay, the weather, the surrounding eco- and geo-environments but…Would we ever return?

Maybe the answer lies in the title of Thomas Wolfe’s powerful but antiquated 1930s novel — You Can’t Go Home Again.

#   #   #








Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

Visit Author's Website

Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Thanx Chas for sharing more of your life’s journey!
    I understand Susan’s and your uncertainty – where indeed is home when you’ve lived and worked in so many places, and can you ever really go back again.

    I like to quote a workshop leader at a human potential weekend I attended years ago who told us,
    “Home is not a place you return to but the place you operate from.”

  2. pattyv says:

    Well, you certainly experienced living on both coasts of our great land, and in present tense I certainly wouldn’t retire in Florida, (all your publications would probably be banned). I hope you inform us where you settle on when you move. Your final destination intrigues me, I feel New England is calling you home.

    • Thanks, pattyv. I have a long-standing, opposite-pole revulsion of Florida, so no problem. As I said to Dave, I didn’t know I was writing a query on destination. But, in the words of Joan Didion “I write to find out what I’m thinking.” And oh, I forgot to mention two years in the Colorado Rockies, no electric, no running water, wood stove. All part of the back to the land movement of early 70s — Colorado, rural Massachusetts. After I recovered I wrote the second of three resistance novels, A Bowl Full of Nails.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    A lot of the literature of homesickness was written when people usually grew up on one place, and stayed a while until circumstance dislodged them. Your tale delineates the confusion of “home” for someone who has a bunch of candidates vying for the title.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    The places you and your partner called “home” have, indeed, changed beyond recognition, though that is where you both “came of age” and maybe matured? Yet, as the others have commented, that is not now your base of operation, just as Detroit could never be home for me any longer (and I rarely even return to visit cousins at this point).

    I have lived in and around Boston for most of my life, so I suppose that is now my home (“Coz I love that dirty water, oh Boston, you’re my home” – I was in 8th grade when the Standells sang that hit tune; I couldn’t have known it would come true, or even better – that the Charles River would get cleaned up), though it is not the place that formed me.

    Charlie, “home” is what we make of it. If we move on and feel a level of comfort with new surroundings, then a new place can become home, don’t you think?

    • You’re right, Betsy. And it’s funny, I had no idea I was projecting confusion about where to go next. As I said in earlier comments, one discovers tons when you write stuff down. We have noticed that folks are moving around, and we may make another move, but right now… we’re doing well beneath the HOLLYWOOD sign .

  5. You show a certain vulnerability in this piece that is very appealing, Charles. Your writing has all the usual good hallmarks like specific images that convey so much more, good flow from paragraph to paragraph. But there is often a certitude to your thinking. Not annoying or anything like that. But here, you just…aren’t sure what to think or say. And it’s different, and nice. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Dale, for your cogent and perceptive obo. I didn’t realize how contemplative I was being when I wrote this piece. We are not jumping right into it, my wife and I are contemplating various facets of the final exciting chapter of life. We’ve seen a rash of location changes, partially due to Covid, but also, because of changes in elements like theater, proximity to nature, etc. But I think you’ve also picked up on an interesting motivation beautifully described by Flannery O’Conner: ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’

Leave a Reply