EAT, WRITE, DIGEST: Nostalgia

Sometimes, I’m surprised by a lump in my throat, a catch in my breath, a feeling deep in my bones that I’m tethered to this landscape with threads so strong that no one will ever be able to separate my essence from the roots that have held me in place from the moment I was born. That feeling snuck up on me today as I left a morning coffee date with a friend.
I’d been feeling a little sad anyway with recent reminders that my daughter, at nineteen, is chafing against being home for the summer, being in her own bedroom in the same house where her parents live. Sad that this is a time in our relationship when it’s often difficult to communicate on the same plane thanks to such vast differences in experience and emotion. And surprised that just yesterday she brought up a place where we hiked when she was a child, along with the wish to go there again. With us.
This morning, I had my own wish to return to an earlier time, a time when I wasn’t responsible for so many things. After I left Empire Coffee + Pastry, where I met my friend Pat, I thought I might as well take a longer route home before I started on today’s tasks. Empire is on Stinson Parkway, in Northeast Minneapolis, not all that far from the neighborhood where I spent my earliest years. I don’t drive by the old house my parents owned on Polk Street much anymore, but today I felt a tug that pulled me hard in that direction.
It was accidental, really. I swung by Home Depot as part of that longer route home, thinking about something I needed to replace in the bathroom and then realizing I had already looked at Home Depot. They didn’t have what I wanted. Since I was already in the parking lot by the time I remembered this fact, I decided to just drive out the other side and get onto Johnson Street. I thought, yeah, this will take me over to 29th Avenue and I can hang a right and head back to Roseville, make a big circle. 
Only I didn’t. As I drove over Johnson, I thought, what the hell, and turned left on 29th instead of right. My first thought as I looked ahead toward Central Avenue was that the view was not the same one from childhood anymore, that the train yard on the west side of Central and the structures that stuck up into the sky had all been redone since the late Sixties. There had been a smokestack that I always looked for as a kid, the one that told me we were almost home. When did that go away?
That was when the lump in my throat came up. And I thought, why does that bother me? Things change. Home shifts. As I kept driving west on 29th, I looked at Audubon Park, where there used to be the grade school where I attended kindergarden, at the pool that has been there since I lived in the neighborhood, at the old house for sale on the north side of the street. I turned right on Polk Street, nearly head-on into a car that drove right down the middle instead of off to one side thanks to a tree trimmer pulled over at one curb. We sorted it out and moved past each other. 
The old house of my childhood has been taken over by people who garden far more extensively than my parents ever did. The house is barely visible now behind shrubs and flowers and a pergola at the top of the stairs that lead up from the public sidewalk. I slowed, considered taking a photo, but decided that would be too much like stalker behavior. Whoever lived there now had no idea that I was there first. And why would they care? The house probably has nothing that is the same except for its bones.

I drove slowly past, eyeing the other houses along the block, turning right at 30th to head back to what is home right now. The lump dissolved. The car windows were open, the radio was on, a man walked his dog on the sidewalk to my right. It was a beautiful morning.
Movement of some sort is the one thing in life that is guaranteed. When it stops, so do we.

My father and me in the back yard of the house on Polk Street.


10 comments

  1. nice, I occasionally drive past my early childhood home 34th and Johnson. A different time

  2. What a beautiful, soul-wrenching piece, Kathleen.

    A few years ago, I noted a young man outside my house taking photos. Curious person that I am, I stepped outside to inquire about his photo taking. He was the son of the previous owner, back home from Alaska. I invited him inside to see his former home and he was pleased to walk through the rooms, remembering. Nothing, of course, looked the same. But the bones, as you say, were still there as were the memories.

  3. How kind of you to invite him in, to believe what he said about having lived there before. I thought about knocking on the door of my old house sometime, but have this feeling that the people there now would not be all that thrilled at this strange woman standing on their doorstep. I guess you never know, though, right?

  4. Kath that is a wonderful piece. And a lovely photo. And so true. I don't even like to go 'home' any more. 'HOME' isn't there. xxx

  5. I think the urge to go home is the urge to recapture the feelings of the past. To revert to a simpler time, a time when things were felt with a passion that seems distant now. When the present picture doesn't line up with the past picture in our memory, it can be jarring. NY has little claim on me now. Wyoming, through passage of adulthood time, has become 'home'.

  6. Hugs.
    The home in which I grew up has been bulldozed and a McMansion erected in its place. My nastier self was pleased to notice that the ancient (and very beautiful) wisteria that they thought they had removed is already lifting the driveway.
    And then my better self feels sorry.


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