Friday, 11 May 2012

A WOLFE IN PAST'S CLOTHING...?


"You can't go
home again" said
THOMAS WOLFE -
and in one sense he
was correct, but in
another sense, he
wasn't.  I've done it,
you see.  Allow me
to explain.

The house in
which I now reside,
I've lived in before.
My family moved
here in 1972 and
we were here for
11 years until we
relocated to another house in a different area in 1983.  Four years later, we
moved back - I'll spare you all the boring details as to why.  At first, it was
as if we'd never moved, but - ah, "but" - I'll get to the "but" shortly.

Being able to "go home again" depends on several diverse sets of
circumstances;  what age you are at the time, how long you've been away,
to what extent (if any) things have changed since you left and (if not)
whether they'll stay the same for the forseeable future, etc.

The memories and
associations of all my
previous abodes are
anchored in specific
periods of time, fixed
and immutable, from
which they can never be
sundered.  For instance,
when I remember one
particular house, it's
resolutely set within
the years 1965 to '72,
or when I call to mind
another, it's locked
between the period
of 1983 and '87.

Sometimes, when strolling through one former neighbourhood, I
think to myself how nice it would be to stay in my old house again.  On
one side are the same neighbours as when we moved into the area in the
mid-1960s - still there after all these years.  That sense of continuity is an
important aspect in considering whether it's possible (or even desirable)
to recapture the feeling and flavour of bygone days by such means.

When we're young,
our life seems to un-
fold before us like
an unravelling ball of
string;  however, when
looking back in later
years, we don't see the
string as the continuous
 uninterrupted strand it
seemed to be at the
time, but as separate,
severed segments,
each in its own little
compartment of the
mind.  Or perhaps a
chain would be a
far more accurate
comparison, with links missing at various intervals which would otherwise
connect every individual recollection (or set of them) with the ones before
and after, rather than leaving them in apparent isolation to one another.
(I'm overstating the case, perhaps, but I'm sure you get the idea.)

Consider the following hypothetical scenario:  You're 8 or 9 years
old and move to another house in another area.  Six months later, your
parents realise it was a mistake.  The house is a dump, the area is a slum,
the school is a disgrace and the neighbours are cold and unfriendly.  By a
fortuitous stroke of good fortune, you're able to return to your previous
house in your old neighbourhood - and do.  All of your former friends and
neighbours are still there, living their lives as before.  Under those happy
conditions, you would merely be resuming your old life after a brief
hiccup in continuity.  Truly, you would have gone home again.

If, on the other
hand, you didn't
return until many
years later, most of
the factors which
made living there so
memorable for you
would no longer exist,
chief amongst them
being your youth
and all its attendant
properties.  (A sense
of wonder, optimism,
enthusiasm, and a
whole host of other
qualities.)

The surrounding neighbourhood would no longer be your very own
adventure playground, merely the street where you live.  The friends with
whom you played in bygone days would by now have grown up and moved on,
once-familiar local faces flitted or expired.  True, you'd have your memories of
happy times past, but these would still be yours wherever you happened to live.
No doubt you'd derive some satisfaction from once again inhabiting your child-
hood home, but unfortunately that might not be enough of a comfort when
the realisation finally dawns of all the inevitable, irreversible changes
that have occurred in your absence.

(I dare say it's the same even if you've lived in only one place all
your life.  Changing circumstances over the years can conspire to make
the experience of living in a long-term home entirely different to what you
once knew.  If new people move in next door and are an absolute nightmare
to live beside, then you may suddenly find yourself consumed with a desire
to quit the place of your unforeseen and seemingly never-ending torment -
despite it being the only house you've ever known and in which you
were previously blissfully content.) 

Moving house
when young is a bit
like breaking up with
a wife or girlfriend
when older.  You may
eventually meet some-
one else and just get
on with things, but
should that lost love
resurface in your life
and want you back,
you recall only the
good times you had
and may be tempted
to pick up where you
left off.  It's happened
- I've read of people
leaving their partners for former lovers or people they once knew (with whom
they've become re-acquainted through Friends Reunited), only to discover
that, once the first flush of reconnecting with a cherished part of their past
has passed, they really have nothing else in common.

It can be the same with houses - or anything, in fact.  Human nature
being what it is, we always miss what we don't have.  When we get it, we
then start to miss whatever we gave up to acquire it.  (Or something else
in which we imagine our happiness resides.)

Case in point:  In 1987, when the opportunity arose of returning
to the house we had left over four years before, I did so without a back-
ward glance as I'd never wanted to move to begin with.  25 years later how-
ever, I increasingly find myself, unbidden, recalling happy times associated
with the place we so heartlessly abandoned in favour of our once previous
and now current abode.  Don't misunderstand me - I'm still glad to be back
here, but, as I say, I also now think fondly of the house we left behind.
(As I do the other former homes my family have inhabited down
through the decades.)

The fact may be,
however, that it's
not actually child-
hood houses (and
other places) which
we miss per se, but
childhood itself -
that time of awe and
enchantment and epic
sense of eternity that
seemed to rest within
our grasp.  The houses
are merely symbols
of those times and
experiences - the
places with which we
associate our feelings
of wonder and joy, plus long sunny summers and frosty snow-bound winters in
a magical kingdom where time held no sway and we thought we had forever.

When we visit the grave of someone deceased, we do so with the full
realisation that the person we knew is not actually there - only their shell,
not their spirit, or essence, or whatever you may care to call it - but we still
feel the need to go to that specific spot to 'reconnect' with them.  Recently,
I've begun to ponder whether revisiting an old house or neighbourhood is
like visiting the grave of my childhood - there it lies, dead and buried,
and I'm merely looking at a monument to its former existence.

Hopefully I'm wrong.  Hopefully, the spirit of childhood yet resides
in me as a living, breathing reality and will never forsake me.  Perhaps
that's the simple truth - it's not so much that childhood forsakes us,
but that we forsake childhood.

So, can one go home again?  They say that home is where the
heart is - but the heart is sometimes a fickle and indecisive organ,
and not always to be trusted.

What would your answer be?

******

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6 comments:

Martin said...

Great post, that should strike a chord with many. You raise some interesting points regarding the complexities of forming attachments to those places we call 'home'. In your summing up, I think you've touched on this quote by Betjeman, "Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows."

Kid said...

Thanks, Martin. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts - and your blog. Readers, click on Martin's name above his comment for access to his site.

Dougie said...

Well, I'm sentimental and hugely nostalgic (Does it show?). When I'm in Glasgow, I visit the two memorials of a friend who died young four years ago.

But when I revisited the site of a childhood holiday in the 70s two Easters ago, it was the dizzy sense of dislocation that struck me, the thrill of feeling like I'd stepped out of time.

When the isolation and repetition of working up here gets oppressive, I fantasise about my flat in Glasgow. But then, I remember the five years of ASBO neighbours I experienced, which dims the appeal.

Kid said...

I have to ask, Dougie - are the ASBO neighbours still there? And would you like to live back there if circumstances allowed?

(And same goes for Dougie's blog - click on his blue name.)

Dougie said...

They were, when I last checked, although they don't seem to have bothered either of my tenants as much as me.

I loved the flat ( enough to take out a mortgage on it!) and Glasgow is a Disneyland compared to living in Moray ( if you don't windsurf or sail). But the pace of life here is gentler and the atmosphere less aggressive. I can't adequately answer the question- that's my dilemma!

Kid said...

Fate often has a way of resolving such dilemmas for us. Time will tell, I suppose.