Professor Joe Goldblatt
The last time I visited my home country, the United States of America, like so many other expatriates, I was amazed at how disunited it had become since I immigrated to Scotland in 2007. Ironically, an American visiting the United Kingdom or even Scotland alone, may experience this same sense of disunification upon our side of the pond.
Upon one of my earlier visits to America my sister and I decided to stroll down memory lane and visit our childhood neighbourhood. I braced myself for the disappointment and decline I might discover. As we slowly drove past the childhood home with the mortar oozing out between the red bricks that my father had designed and built, I asked her to stop the car so I could take a photograph. Then, impulsively, I opened the car door and told my sister I was going to see if the new owners of our childhood home would allow me to come in for a brief look around.
I rang the door bell as my heart began to rapidly beat faster and faster and a young hispanic man opened the door slightly. I then explained that my parents had built this house and it had been my home for 18 years and I asked him if I could have a wee look around. To my surprise and astonishment he opened the door wide, warmly welcomed me and I tentatively stepped into the living room not knowing what I might find.
Immediately I noticed that the giant wall size oval mirror that had been surrounded with a gold leaf frame. There it was, nearly sixty years later and it was still reflecting my image from the front door. When Papa had ordered this mirror he told the glazier that he wanted it to reflect all of the happiness that would soon take place in our new home. One day during the installation of the mirror Papa arrived home to check on the progress of the work and he noticed that the Italian glazier was sitting on the curb in front of our home, quietly weaping.
Papa sat down beside him and asked “What is the trouble?” The man explained that upon hanging the mirror he had accidentally cracked the bottom of this huge disc. Papa told the man that there could be no tears in the creation of our future home. He simply asked him to cover the crack with an additional section of the gold leaf moulding. The man was grateful to our father for his understanding and then designed a beautiful golden moulding to surround the mirror whilst covering the crack.
Now I was standing before the giant mirror that had welcomed thousands of guests to our home for over fifty years. I quickly asked to see the kitchen and noticed that it looked very similar to the room I remembered as a child, despite the shiny new modern appliances. I opened the small pantry door and to my surprise I discovered my mothers handwriting was still visible upon the inside of the door. Mama had listed the names and phone numbers of the local pharmacy, doctor, dentist, dry cleaner and other essential folk who provided vital services for our family. I began to feel as though I was suddenly an archeologist discovering historical treasures.
I then wandered through the short hallway to see my sister’s bedroom, my parents larger bedroom, and finally the additional room Papa had built to provide a home for his parents in their old age. As I looked out the back window I noticed that the rear yard that had once been meticulously cared for by Papa as he transformed it into a hillside featuring multiple chinese terraces with a three tier fountain and statues of Diana and Apollo at the peak, was now simply and sadly allowed to grow wild. All evidence of Papa’s creativity and pride had now disappeared.
As I made my exit I thanked the owner for his graciousness and then silently vowed never to try and go home again. Perhaps the old saying “You can never go home again” was actually true.
In the past year I researched the evolution of our home further and found that a new owner had invested great sums of money transforming it into a chic white structure that had transformed the clever mortar oozing red bricks into a more modern, and actually, duller look. It was at this moment that I knew I had to see if the America of my youth had similarly changed for the better or the worse and try and learn how it now compares with my adopted homeland of Scotland.
Last year, I was invited to return to my home country to serve as Visiting Professor of Planned Events at New York Unviersity in New York City for two months in the Spring of 2022. I decided to accept this invitation partially to see if I could go home again to America and whilst as a visitor learn how Scotland and America have changed during my fifteen years of absence as a full time resident of the Good Ole USA.
Recently, I conducted research to see how our family home had evolved following the death of both of our parents. To my delight and surprise the latest reincarnation had retained many of the best features and even included the original red brick, still oozing mortar, post box. Whilst the kitchen is now double its original size and the baths have been modernised, it still feels, even through photos, somewhat like my original family home.
However, the diminished size of the living room oval mirror is perhaps a telling sign of what I might experience when I make my return journey this Spring. I am preparing myself to expect an America where some of the grand schemes and ideas that I treasured as a young man, may have changed and even be slightly diminished. Our return journey will take us from the midwest to the deep south and finally to the northeast. Therefore, I will have the opportunity to compare and contrast over thousands of miles how the America of my youth has changed, diminished in some ways and perhaps expanded in others. I will also be able to perhaps recognise, examine and reflect upon the many conflicts and deepening cracks in the democratic system and compare these with my adopted country of Scotland.
I also hope to find that the country of of my birth, now with over 300 million citizens has more than doubled in population and is still green and growing. My sense of optimism about America is derived from my father who was an optimist himself and he also continually invented new products to improve our lives and our home.
One day, my father came home from his hardware store with a large canister to which was attached a metal rod. He soon began to point the rod at the lawn and began spray painting the brown grass in our front yard with a brilliant shiny emerald green colour. My mother, sister and I walked into the front yard and asked him what he was doing? “I am tired of our grass turning brown every winter. I want it to be green and growing all year long. This is my new invention. It is a dye that I have created to keep our grass bright green all year long!”
The good news is that Papa’s dye did not kill all of the grass. The other news is that when Spring eventually arrived we now had two colours of grass throughout the front yard and it looked quite ridiculous.
Perhaps this should be a reminder to me that when I begin my journey to America and post regular dispatches through our Scottish newspaper, that I do so with an open and inquisitve mind and heart. I hope to return to Scotland all the wiser as I explore what it means in 2022 to be Scottish in America as well as what America perceives and may learn from the country that adopted me all those many years ago.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He will serve as Visiting Professor of Planned Events at New York University in New York city from mid March to mid May 2022.