Thomas Wolfe wrote "You Can't Go Home Again," but that was before Zillow.
About a year ago, my older son and I went to visit my hometown for a day — a trip marinated in nostalgia.
One of our stops that day was my childhood home, a duplex where our family lived two blocks from the Duck River in Columbia, Tennessee. We moved into the house before I started first grade in 1964. My late mother ultimately lived there for almost 40 years.
I remember on that 2020 trip with my son thinking our old frame house — which is at least 90 years old now — looked a little forlorn. Most of the trees in the yard had been cut down (or fallen), and I didn't notice any improvements to the exterior, except a newer roof and some steel security doors.
"I was hoping for gentrification," I remember thinking to myself. "Not this."
Well, hold that thought.
My sister told me last weekend that the little 1,800-square-foot duplex my parents bought for $8,000 in the early 1960s just sold for a mid-six-figure amount — a sign that change is bubbling right under the surface like Texas oil.
I immediately checked Zillow, and indeed the website said our old house has appreciated 500% in the last six years, which is sort of the definition of gentrification, right? Forget appreciation; this is the kind of giddy price speculation that makes you gasp.
My hometown has been affected by a wave of affluence that has trickled down from the suburbs of Nashville to Brentwood to Franklin to Spring Hill before settling in Columbia, a.k.a. "the dimple of the universe."
Through the magic of Zillow, I was also able to see about a dozen interior photos of our old house. (If you've never searched Zillow for your childhood home, I recommend it. But hold onto something, because it can be a wild ride.)
It had been about 20 years since I'd seen the inside of my parents' old house, and I barely recognized anything. Walls had been removed, carpet replaced with wood floors, the quirky kitchen I remembered — with a clothes dryer shoulder-to-shoulder with an oven — had been redone.
But I did recognize spaces.
My old bedroom, a windowless interior room that I paneled myself with just a hammer and a handsaw when I was 15, had been converted into a storage area — which tells you something about the tight square footage.
I recognized the kitchen of course as the home of the world's shortest fainting spell. When I was about 12, I held my breath, fainted, sat on a hot gas space heater and stood straight back up (eyes wide open) in the space of about three seconds.
The living room I recognized because of the green hearth tiles and ornate antique mantel around the gas fireplace. My mind tried to fill in the floor spaces with brown shag carpet from the 1970s.
When I was in college in the late 1970s, I remember bringing a roommate home one time who thought I was pranking him by taking him to the slums. Meanwhile, Zillow recently touted the property as a "fabulous location" just a block away from a greenway and a short walk from a historic downtown district.
I love the rebirth of the neighborhood, and I hope the new owners have children that will again call this house their childhood home. But a 500% price increase in five years feels like a helium-filled balloon, high-flying and fragile, ready to pop.
Sometimes I wonder how our two sons will feel about the house they grew up in on Walden's Ridge.
One day I was out in our driveway washing my car when I felt a car slow down in the road behind me. When I turned around, I saw a young man leaning out the window.
"I lived in your house when I was little," he said.
"Oh, would you like to come inside a minute?" I said. "It's kind of messy, but I don't mind if you look around."
"No," he said. "But thanks anyway."
In retrospect, I suspect he didn't want anything to rearrange his childhood memories.
And now I think I know why.
Email Mark Kennedy at email@example.com.