Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said

Thomas Wolfe had a thing about home. So did E.T., but his wish was much simpler: call the folks and get a ride back.


Thomas Wolfe was a little more complicated. He was born October 3, 1900 and died September 15, 1938. His father ran a gravestone business in Asheville, NC. He died of miliary tuberculosis of the brain at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore just shy of his 38th birthday. Wlliam Faulkner called Wolfe the best talent of their generation. High praise.


Look Homeward, Angel was Wolfe’s first novel. Published in 1929, it is a fictionalized account of his early life in Asheville. It caused an uproar in Asheville at the time, and Wolfe stayed away from the town for 8 years. Maybe that has something to do with his notions of home as well.


You Can’t Go Home Again was published posthumously in 1940.


I remember there being a made-for-television movie of the book in 1979, starring Chris Sarandon as the young writer in the story. I don’t remember if it was any good.


I am more of a Steinbeck fan myself. He also said you can’t go home again.


I recently went home again.


I thought I was going home again when I took a job at the University of California, Davis last last year. The town of Davis itself felt like home and I was quite comfortable th. Campus also felt like home. Some things had changed, as I expected they would, but the general feeling of being there was much the same. For reasons I won’t go into, it didn’t work out, but it had nothing to do with the place.

In my own literary efforts, I hope to one day finish a memoir about moving away from home (see The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™). Home in this story is to me the house we lived in in Atlanta until the summer of 1972. I still dream about that house frequently, and remember the details of it better than most of the other countless apartments and houses I’ve lived in over the years since.

So many memories. Dyson Drive, late 1960s.
Dyson Drive house, early 1960s, before a back addition of a breakfast room, a large bedroom for my sisters, a second bathroom, a little teeny tiny bedroom for me (the littlest one).

I was in Atlanta for a short visit to celebrate October birthdays (we are the 3 Libra sisters). We had a wonderful time, with mani/pedis, bargain shopping, great food, a day at the Atlanta History Center (an upcoming blogpost) and a visit to the old neighborhood in Druid Hills.



For the most part, the changes were no more than I expected. I don’t have any illusions that things remain the same. My Atlanta childhood memories are uniquely my own. My mother’s memories of the same places were different as were her mother’s. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and happily disagree with Messieurs Wolfe and Steinbeck. You CAN go home again!


First we explored Emory Village, which we used to walk to to go to Horton’s. Horton’s is hard to describe; basically think old-fashioned five-and-dime with a soda fountain. A little change in your pocket as a kid went a long way at Horton’s!


There are now 3 stores where Horton’s used to be.
The old Kroger, where I used to love to go grocery shopping with my mother on a Saturday, is now a CVS. I saw something on the Internet that it used to be the nation’s smallest Kroger store, which is probably why I liked it.
For many years (41 to be exact) this was the home of Everybody’s Pizza. I don’t remember what it was before that! It opened in 1971.
This was a KFC. Falafel King is a big improvement if you ask me!
One of these shops used to be the wondrous Alexander Stinson store. It was a, to us, groundbreaking shop, my first exposure to anything remotely counterculture in Georgia. It was opened in the 1960s by Bill Stinson, an English professor and a deft hand at creative merchandising and display. There were eventually 3 stores. I LOVED Alexander Stinson.
The old cinema. The last time I was there was on a visit in 1978; my sister Ellen took me to see the Jill Clayburgh/Alan Bates film An Unmarried Woman. I also fondly remember the sandwich shop, as well as when I learned what PDQ stood for in Pizza PDQ.

And you can’t go to Emory Village without wandering into the gorgeous entrance to Emory University. When I was a high school senior in Sacramento, California, I desperately wanted to go to either Emory or to Mount Holyoke (that’s also a different blogpost; I went to neither).

Next stop: Fernbank Elementary School and the Fernbank Science Center.

The old sign out front is gone.
It’s been replaced with this sign.

The old building is gone, a new, large, spiffy one in its place. And that’s okay. The kids of the neighborhhood deserve a nice, new school with updated facilities. Yes, the Cat Stevens song (Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard plays in my head (see Is there a cure for earworms?Or, Help! I Need Somebody…) but it’s just a song and new kids in the neighborhood are making their own special memories.

Frankly, not all of my schoolyard memories are that great (I remember when the torment of my school years, the President’s Physical Fitness Test, was instituted at Fernbank. Nightmares!)

New school.
Plastic playground equipment and softscaping. I survived metal equipment on blacktop, but I did have a lot of skinned knees.
Please don’t make me do the President’s Physical Fitness Test ever again!

At some point in my childhood, the Fernbank Science Center was built across the street from the school, and basically over the fence from our backyard. On hot summer nights we would walk over to the planetarium, which was blissfully air conditioned.

The backyard of our old house is over that fence.

My favorite memory of school is GOING HOME at the end of the day! We lived so close, and walked rain or shine. When we moved to California and I had to ride the school bus, I was in total culture shock. This was my walk home:

I loved this house, it looks pretty much the same, and I hope I keep dreaming about living there!

Just remember, there’s no place like home.


And every woman should have a pair of red shoes. It was my mother who said that one.



Happy Birthday, Mom

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. She was born February 3, 1936 in New York City, which often surprises people because she was so much a Southerner. Her parents, Dr. James Elliott Scarborough (1906-1966) and Isabelle Wisell Scarborough (1909-1992), moved to Atlanta when Mom was very young. My grandfather was a doctor at what was then the Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied Diseases and is now Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My grandmother was a nurse but left the hospital when my mother came along. The story in the family is that they were so sure that my mother would be a boy, they hadn’t come up with any girl names. Her birth certificate says “Baby Girl Scarborough”. Eventually one of the nurses started calling her Nancy and it stuck.

Dr. Scarborough, originally a farm boy from Hayneville, Alabama but a graduate of Harvard Medical School, was recruited by Coca Cola CEO Robert Winship Woodruff in 1937 to head up the Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta. Thus my mother became a Southerner and my Vermont-born and raised grandmother embraced Atlanta society.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of my mother. In 1990, the house she was living in with her second husband in Sacramento, California, burned down and many photos were lost to the fire. Here is a short photo tribute to my mother, Nancy Scarborough Cottraux Dilbeck (February 3, 1936-August 23, 2009).

I get the impression from the look on her face that Mom might have a little attitude going. The story she told is that her mother told her she couldn’t wear the ring she has on her finger for the photo because her hands were too dirty, but Mom slipped the ring on anyway.


high school
Mom’s high school senior photo, Henry W. Grady High School, Atlanta, circa 1952-1953.


baby G
Mom with baby Genevieve in 1961. I am the youngest of 4; our father, Stephen Pierre Cottraux Jr., was killed in an automobile accident in 1962.


Mom loved red dresses. This is at my grandmother’s house. I’m in the blue sweater. Sister Ellen is behind me, my brother Steve next to me and sister Cathy behind him.


Mom in the Alps
In 1969, my mother took a trip to Europe. I spent what seemed like a really long time with my grandmother. My brother went to summer camp, and my sisters went on a trip to San Diego to visit our Cottraux grandparents. This is in the Swiss Alps.
Circa 1972.
In 1972, Mom married her second husband, Van Dilbeck. This is on the farm in Georgia where his mother had relocated with her second marriage the same year. My mother is in the back in the dark blue shirt. I am up front, upside down face. My brother Steve is showing off how much fresh corn on the cob he can eat. At 14, it was a lot! Later that summer, we moved to California.


There is a huge gap in the photos after that. Many were lost in the fire, and others I’ve never had scanned. Jumping to 2003, this is in my then backyard in Napa when Mom came from Sacramento to go to a tea party with me.


Mom helping a much thinner me with home decor, 2003. I did eventually learn how to turn the date stamp off on that camera!


sewing 1
Mom was a very talented seamstress. She made most of our clothes when we were growing up. This is at her house in Sacramento in 2004, cutting fabric for an evening dress I decided to make out of a satin tablecloth. I’ve never finished the dress.


Bob cat
Mom with her beloved cat Bob, a stray who took up residence in her yard and hit the jackpot. Here he is getting his Christmas treats.


70th birthday
Mom’s 70th birthday party in 2006.


This is one of the last photos I have of her. In late 2008 she was diagnosed with untreatable Stage 4 lung cancer. She spent her last months in hospice care. Always an animal lover, she was so happy to have hospice pup Violet to cuddle with.


I like to think she would be proud of me for the path I’ve taken over the last few years. She always let me make my own decisions, whether she approved or not (like when I dropped out of college in 1981 to follow a boy halfway around the world). I didn’t always like her decisions either (like moving us to California in 1972), but I’ve come to appreciate the hurdles she faced and the choices she had to make.

I love you and miss you, Mom.