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Pickle Me This

August 8, 2011

Going Home Again

“I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience or returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely. We have had too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places.” –Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

I don’t get home very often, hardly ever. I’ve never lived in either of the houses where my parents live now, my grandparents’ houses were sold and gutted long ago, the woods behind the house I lived in until I was nine are now so grown-up that you can’t see the house from the road, and I rarely find myself on that road anyway. Wallace Stegner was right. Like Joan Didion, my parents may have wanted to promise me that I would “grow up with a sense of [my] cousins and of rivers and over my great-grandmother’s teacups, would like to [have pledged me] a picnic on a river with fried chicken and [my] hair uncombed, would like to [have given me] home for [my] birthday, but we live differently now.” Which I don’t think is an inconsolable loss, but it’s a loss still, and one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve been awash is nostalgia this last while. I keep wanting to write essays about how I spent the night of September 11 2001 in Kos at College and Bathurst eating fries with my friends. This comes on because that night was ten years ago, a nice round number, and because I’ve been listening to Dar William’s The Honesty Room, which I bought around the same time. I keep wanting to write essays about riding our bikes in Japan, and our house in England with its dirty lace curtains and the park across the street, and these wouldn’t be essays, really. They would be diary entries, which, according to Sarah Leavitt, are differentiated from memoirs in that in memoirs, the role of the self is to serve the story. In my story, the role of the self would only be to serve the self, pure indulgence. Basically, I’d like to go home again. Which is as impossible as: Basically, I want a time machine.

I try. Sometimes I walk down Dundas Street between Bathurst and Manning, where I lived for a pivotal year at the turn of the century, except that the Chinese herb shop we lived over is now a store where you can buy a $2400 ottoman, and the restaurant at the end of our block burned down last summer. Sometimes I walk through the university campus where I lived when I thought that a push-up bra and blue eyeshadow were key accessories and where the snow fell so high once that the army came and shovelled us out, but it’s too altogether the same and different. We’ve been replaced by new students who sleep in our beds and imagine themselves to be the centre of the universe.

My family has a thing for nostalgia. A favourite pass-time has always been the Driving By Where We Used to Live game, or the Driving by Where We Lived Before You Were Born game. I sometimes still play this, except we don’t have a car, and so we settle for Pushing Your Stroller Past the Old Apartment whenever we’re in Little Italy. My husband thinks this is weird. Partly because he has lived in none of these locations save for one, and so the game to him is a little bit boring. I keep trying to take him home to places he’s never seen in his life which are inhabited by strangers who have painted the garage door and redone the siding. Besides, he grew up in a land so steeped in its history that he was eager to shed the concept entirely with his new life in Canada. He’s had enough of trodding on Roman ruins. He also thinks it’s funny that any Canadian building one hundred years old is worthy of a plaque.

Anyway, the point is that the cottage we’ve stayed at the last two summers is also where the summers of my childhood were spent. Or not the entire summers, but a few weeks of every one, which, interestingly, have gone all metonymic and become the only bits of those summers I remember. So that last week I did get to go home again, to a place so utterly unchanged, but then I am so changed that it’s a new place altogether and I am happy with that, because I certainly don’t want our summer vacation to be one of those drive-by games that makes Stuart exasperated. I want the cottage to be a place for Harriet to discover for herself, just like I did, and she doesn’t need to know that the dock used to be broken and sinking, so slippery that you couldn’t run, where our fort was, and that the beach was wider once upon a time, but the minnows are the same, and so are the leopard frogs. It is easier to walk barefoot on gravel than it used to be, or maybe it’s just that the soles of my feet are just hard.

No one needs to know about the two salient selves I remember from there. The seven year old girl with a side-ponytail performing a choreographed routine to the theme from Jem and the Holograms on top of a picnic table, and the other one even more awkward, if you can believe it. She’s sitting on a swing dreamily, listening to “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” on the yellow Sony Sports Walkman tucked into the kangaroo pocket of her baja jacket. She’s staring at the sunset sparkling on the lake, and she’s thinking of profound things, like boyfriends, and breasts, and one day being so far away that she’ll be able to refer to herself in the third person.

3 thoughts on “Going Home Again”

  1. Heidi says:

    Such a lovely evocative ode. I think the self served the story. Because this reader found herself reflected too. (And is also referring to herself in the third person.)

  2. Nathalie says:

    I think summer is the season of nostalgia. Beautifully apt essay, not at all self-serving.

  3. Julia says:

    This is a beautiful piece, Kerry! I can absolutely relate to it (even the baja jacket!), especially the parts about driving by the where we used to live game. My husband doesn’t understand it either, but then again, I find him strange for living a nostalgia-free life.

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