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Birds of a feather flock together

"Birds of a feather flock together," my mother always used to say. She had several different meanings for that expression, but there was always one underlying message: Don't forget where you came from. And the best way not to forget where you came from is to go back there once in a while to touch base -- home base.

There is a certain glamour in coming from a military family that has lived all over the world: Hawaii, the Philippines, Japan, Germany, France, you name it. But in addition to envy, I have always felt a certain sympathy for folks who can't say where they grew up or where home is.

Small towns know how to pull their children home. A well organized all-school reunion always works. The sons and daughters return not only to see their classmates, but their fellow natives of all classes and to get the feel of their hometown again.

When you go, a place to start is the cemetery. First to reconnect with mom and dad, then to see and remember the names of friends and neighbors and to reflect on the history of the town. Voices of the past that need to be heard won't be talking at an all-school reunion -- they can only be heard at the cemetery, if we listen.

Then we have to drive by the home or homes where we grew up. Never the same, but we have to go there. These homes and the yards they're in have corners and contours nobody would know unless they lived there. Even the pits and cracks in the sidewalk are dabs of the mosaic. They're important only in that they are little bits and pieces of a familiar place. They are bits and pieces of a feeling called nostalgia, and the value of nostalgia is only that if one doesn't feel it, the void is probably filled with bitterness, regret, disappointment or pain.

The pulse of the occasion and of the town must be felt on your feet, up and down the sidewalk examining the vitality of the business district and trolling for random encounters with distant cousins, friends of your brother and sister, locals who are just as much a part of the celebration as visitors, a classmate who shares your birthday and birth place, the first girl you ever dated, the last local girl you dated, a baseball teammate, the girl who stood in front of you in the choir, your pal's widow, a star forward, a farm boy still farming on the family homestead, a guy who reads your column and sends a well-informed e-mail challenging your position, the publisher who hired you years ago (and after one glance said you need to send a more recent photo), a crack half miler, a friend of your mother's, the tradesman who made a family business out of his skill and dozens of faces young and old you faintly recognize, but can't recall their names.

Some of the old classmates' faces have been on every class picture since first grade, some came along later, but we are all birds of a feather. All sparrows. We may have flown high with the eagles or strutted with the peacocks, but back home we're all the sparrows we were when we left. Over the past weekend I heard a new song (maybe it was old but I had never heard it), "I Was Born A Penny And I Ain't Gonna Be A Dime." That's what we were -- a flock of sparrows, a pile of pennies.

Same sparrows and pennies, only older. Same humor, same twinkle, same friendship, same faces -- only more wrinkles. It was good to relate histories, remember old stories, shake hands, hug and touch base. Our class president who organized all the get-togethers in the past is gone now, but his wife, also a classmate, and her team still get the class organized. One class member put together and framed pictures of all our departed classmates. That one stopped us in our tracks. My two best high school pals were in that frame. Friends die, but friendships live on.

Go back to your hometown the next time the community has a gathering. You will get a reality check, a warm welcome and a jolt of nostalgia. You'll be glad you went.