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You Can Go Home Again


In an obvious reference to Thomas Wolfe’s autobiographical novel "You Can’t Go Home Again," Collier’s magazine published an introspective article written by North Dakota native Eric Sevareid, entitled “You Can Go Home Again,” 50 years ago today—May 11, 1956.

For Sevareid, home was Velva, North Dakota—where he spent the first twelve years of his life. Thirty years later, with a mixture of anxiety, curiosity, and anticipation, the world-wise and battle-hardened journalist stepped off the Great Northern’s Empire Builder in Minot and rented a Studebaker for the final leg of his mid-life pilgrimage to his boyhood home.

Clearly, memories of his twelve years in North Dakota were cherished by Sevareid. These “golden threads” as he called them included: “shade and the cool grass of our yard, pleasant faces that never die, the creak of saddles and the smell of horses, the nectar of cactus berries and the stain of plums, the secret, devilish gang-thrill on Halloween, the cold, dripping joy of the ice wagon in the hot summer street, the leafy path to the swimming hole, the mad joy of the circus parade down Main Street, the heady drug of printer’s ink in the Journal shop, the girl of silver and blue, the stately gravity of the Chautauqua lecturer who made me feel so wise and grave on the walk home with Father.”

He also wrote of black threads in his memory: “…the terrible blasting of the summer winds, the merciless suns, …the frozen darkness of the winters when the deathly mourn of the coyote seemed at times the only signal of life”…being “lost, alone, in the eternity of nothingness…” and witnessing “human cruelty for the first time.” But he said, “For me in these 30 years the golden threads have outlasted the black.”

After the Sevareid family left Velva in the mid ‘20s, Eric had graduated from Minneapolis Central High School and the University of Minnesota, with further studies in London and Paris. As a war correspondent in Europe and the Far East for the duration of World War II, and as chief Washington Correspondent for CBS News at the time he visited Velva in 1956, he had been as far from home as a child of a peaceful prairie town could go.

During his several-day visit, Sevareid observed the comings and goings of the 12-year-old son of his old friend and host. He saw himself in the boy as he moved about town on bicycle and on foot—haunting the library, the riverbank, the slough, and using all the same shortcuts. He wrote parenthetically to the boy, “I would never dare advise you, Mike, whether or not to move away when you are older. I understand too little of the bearing of place and time on human happiness or discontent, and now that I have been back and watched and listened and talked with all of you, my certainties number less than ever.”

Of his departure at the end of the visit Sevareid wrote, “The eastbound Empire Builder pulled away and the faces under the street lamp vanished at once. I knew in my heart I would never see them again.”

Written by Russell Ford-Dunker


“You Can Go Home Again,” Colliers, 11 May 1956, p.38.