Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is among America’s greatest novelists. One of his most acclaimed books, “You Can’t Go Home Again, takes place just prior to the stock market crash of ’29. George Webber has moved from North Carolina to New York City, where he writes his first novel. Despite the book’s success, it angers his hometown for what it reveals.

But don’t tell author, Elaine Jones Stephenson, who grew up in Santa Monica in the 1940’s (Samohi  class of 1951),  you can’t come home again. Tomorrow, at the Ocean Park Branch Library, Elaine will be “coming back” more than 70 years after she moved here as a young girl.

During WWII, “Laney” and her family lived in a three-room apartment above the merry-go-round on the pier. (The Hippodrome, which houses the carousel, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year!)

Elaine is bringing her recently published memoir, “My Life Above the Carousel in Santa Monica.” Her first book is an enchanting and often touching collection of short stories about growing up in Santa Monica with her hard-working and proud British-born parents, Eric and Lily, and her four energetic siblings, (three sisters and one brother.)

With a hint of the character Scout from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the book is told through the eyes of precocious 11-year-old Laney as she describes her free-spirited adventures. (And occasional misadventure.)  She paints an idyllic Santa Monica that we can only imagine today, but that Elaine artfully brings to life.

The memoir opens in 1944 with the Joneses living in Rhode Island. Eric, an artist, is off in California seeking a new job. During wartime jobs and housing were in scarce supply but Eric wires home that he’s found both. (His job at the Hippodrome includes an apartment!) In the telegram he urges his family to pack everything, hop on a Greyhound and hightail it to Santa Monica!

Though excited, Laney’s reluctant to leave school friends and her favorite teacher. (Interesting, that Elaine would grow up to be an elementary school teacher herself.)  She was especially conflicted about abandoning her prized comic book collection.

In a chapter entitled, “California Dreaming,” Laney, looking out of the Greyhound window, describes the landscapes and people passing by during the grueling 3,000-mile trip to LA. Lily had to be both nurturing mother and drill sergeant to her five cooped-up children ages 12 years to 18 months.

Of the trip, Elaine writes, “After five days of sleeping on a bus, using public restrooms, eating in cheap coffee shops, watching my mom change diapers and clean up vomit, we would finally see wonderful California.”

The family’s reunion with Eric was joyous.  And the cab ride to Santa Monica, passing the Brown Derby and other iconic Hollywood night sports, dazzled impressionable Laney. But she was taken aback by the gloomy and rundown Hippodrome.

Her spirits brightened, however, with her magical first view of the carousel. “Some of the horses with their brightly colored saddles, were solid white with flecks of gold and silver shining in their manes. And in the middle of each saddle was a gleaming brass pole. Glowing electric lights and shiny mirrors circled the wooden animals like a gigantic jeweled crown.”

Their apartment upstairs was exceedingly small. Worse, it didn’t have access to the roof for Lily to hang the wash on the clothesline; so vital with five kids. Ever resourceful, Eric soon cut a hole in the roof, finished the edges and installed a ladder and voila!

The roof also became the 1940’s version of texting. When her kids were on the beach, Lily would merely hang a different colored towel on the clothesline to signal if she wanted them home immediately, or if they could stay until sunset (with no “message” fees).

On her first day at Madison Elementary, Laney was terrified the other kids would tease her about living above the carousel (or at a minimum, want free rides). But being pretty and bright, she was welcomed instantly.

As a teen, Laney would do some modeling and even appeared on the front page of the Evening Outlook. And Elaine is proud to this day to have been a Samohi Song Girl. Years later there would be a teaching career, marriage to Bill (60 years this summer!), children, grandchildren and now her first book.

After reading “My Life Above the Carousel in Santa Monica”, if you didn’t grow up in Santa Monica you’ll likely wish you did. Seven decades later, and Thomas Wolfe aside, Elaine is finally coming home again.

Elaine Stephenson will discuss her new memoir, Jan. 23 at the Ocean Park Branch Library at 2601 Main St. at 2 p.m. A book sale and signing will follow. Elaine’s email is: Jack’s is at: