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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 unfold 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 childhood 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 someone 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 backward glance as I'd never wanted to move to begin with. 25 years later however, 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 childhood houses (and other places) which we miss per se, but childhooditself - 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 the simple truth is not so much that childhood forsakes us, but that we forsake childhood.
So, can one go home again? They say thathome 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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