Memory joggers of home remain

Ever since Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again was published posthumously in 1940, debate has flourished on the possible philosophical meanings of the title.

Ever since Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again was published posthumously in 1940, debate has flourished on the possible philosophical meanings of the title.

Enough! I say. You can too go home again, so long as memories and memory joggers of home remain.

This year I was physically unable to accompany Herself on our annual visit with her sister Caroline on the family ranch west of Pincher Creek, so son John came to stay with me in Red Deer and we made a last nostalgic one-day visit to my home haunts in Brooks and vicinity.

I grew up in Brooks, and left in 1955 when I was 17 for Edmonton and the University of Alberta and eventually Dalhousie Law School in Halifax. Population of the town of Brooks in 1955 was around 1,750; now it is a city, soon to hit 15,000 persons.

My old home, renovated beyond recognition by anyone but me, is still on one of its former two lots on 3rd Street West, and the huge 70-year old basswood (linden) tree, parent of the one in my Red Deer back yard, still stands by the back door.

From there we traced my long Calgary Herald paper route, and I named names of owners of dozens of more than 100-year-old homes.

My red brick first elementary school still stands in use. My mother and aunt both taught there before I was born.

As we take a picture, I can hear my Grade 1 teacher, Miss (Helen) O’Brian, shuffling and showing her deck of phonics flash cards and correctly assuring us we’d all be reading by Christmas.

Then, scouring the first newer subdivision sections of town, I could not find the de la Vergne house, home of my friend John, whose parents were both killed in a car crash when we were in Grade 8.

Had I found it, next door should have been the home of my main high school sweetie. Renovations? Demolitions?

South to Lake Newell, and for the first time in my life I failed to find its head gates where I wanted to see if the huge whitefish are still rising and if son John can’t catch them on a fly, just like I have never been able to do. What we found instead was the inlet from the canal from the Bassano Dam on the Bow and a resort — really a city — of massive, grossly expensive mansions.

The pike spawning marshes do not seem to hold as much water as I recall, but are not enough short to explain the shocking Lake Newell pike collapse.

We detour on the way home through the gloriously green upland country around Patricia. Spring counts for both pheasants and sharp tails were good, but we saw no birds in some likely locations; they were probably all loafing in the shade.

A major downside to missing the Pincher Creek trip is not having lunch at the Chuckwagon Café in Turner Valley, dinner at the Tin Roof Bistro in Blairmore, maybe even another lunch with old friend, Don Hayden, at the Green Bamboo Peking House in Pincher Creek.

John and I kept batching bodies and souls together with what has become my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Red Deer, the family-run Thap Ba on the east side of Gaetz Avenue south.

Their buns (vermicelli noodle bowls) and phos (noodle soups) are traditional and superb; the pho broth rich, clear and flavourful.

Both the pho and the bun should be served with fresh sprigs of basil, mint and cilantro, as they often are in Vietnam, but seldom in Vietnamese restaurants in Canada.

Thap Ba joins the trend to Vietnamese restaurants also offering bahn mi, the famous Vietnamese submarine sandwiches.

Our favourites are their special, featuring Vietnamese salami and Thap Ba’s sublime traditional Vietnamese grilled pork and the spicier chicken satay sub.

The subs would be even better if they included some do chua, the traditional Vietnamese carrot-daikon pickle.

We arrived in Brooks just in time for lunch at the Wasana Asian-Thai Restaurant in Sunnylea on the southwest side of the city.

It is small, clean and decorated with Thai wall hangings. Frankly, I was surprised to find the place still there. I ate a time or two at the Wasana just after it opened a few years ago and thought it was too good to last.

Inside, a good Thursday lunch crowd was hitting on a Chinese buffet.

Buffets turn Chinese food to glop in my opinion, so we tried the only two Thai buffet items — hot and sour soup and a chicken wing each — then ordered from the largely Thai menu.

The shrimp salad rolls were the best I have ever enjoyed, the sum tam, green papaya salad, was a revelation, the hottest item of our meal, yet strangely cooling on a very hot day, an excellent green curry chicken and the best coconut rice I have eaten anywhere.

Another “last” trip home makes sense, with some maps this time to find lost places, and for another great meal at the Wasana.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at

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