Alyce Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

The only way to be able to bear living far away from your family, assuming that you like them, is to avoid nostalgia at all costs. For the past 13 years, I’ve done so quite successfully. My mom, my husband’s parents, all of our siblings, cousins and nieces and nephews, and now, a grandniece, all live in Pennsylvania. I love my job and there are lots of great people in Texas, but there is something about the pull of where you grew up. And the people you grew up with.  I think that’s why people go back to their high school reunions even if they didn’t have a very good high school experience. That’s why, just as all the elderly relatives who remember the family history, are dying off, the fifty-somethings get interested in genealogy. I am on guard again the seductive pull of nostalgia. You have to be when you really can’t ever go home again to the same place and the same people. When someone else lives in your childhood home and the people that used to people it, well, not all of them are any longer in the land of the living.  I combat nostalgia by ruthlessly living in the present and future, by not pouring over old pictures and by recalling biblical texts about leaving family and home for his sake and about everyone who believes in him is his mother and sister and brother. But sometimes the sepia lighting steals over the past- misty and flattering and I find myself walking, or driving toward the light.

My husband and I attended the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg a few weeks ago around the 4th of July.  We stayed with my mom and step father Bruce at their home in a retirement village in Mechanicsburg, Pa. at night and drove to Gettysburg to watch battles by day. Why did I feel compelled to be there? Because my father, who died in 2002, was a Civil War buff, and in 1959 founded the magazine Civil War Times. He wrote a biography of Abraham Lincoln and a highly acclaimed Civil War Novel called Jim Mundy that was compared by critics with The Red Badge of Courage. Many weekends in my childhood, my older brother Wade and I spent our Saturdays walking the battlefield with my dad. As a reward he got us each Billy Yank and Johnny Reb hats at the gift shop. We practiced making hardtack for fun at home. I don’t recommend it. There was a point as a child at which I remember thinking, “I don’t care if I never see this battlefield again!” Yet, there I was, 50 years later, drawn back to it like a moth to the flame. And the flame’s name is nostalgia. Nostalgia can affect people who had decent childhoods and people whose childhoods were painful. I am well aware of the formal definition of nostalgia: It’s yearning for a past that never quite was and never can be again.

But if I was going to careen down memory lane, I wasn’t going alone. I dragged my mother, my stepfather, and my husband into the nostalgia fest. One afternoon  I said, “Can we go by the house on Marble Street? I’d just like to see it again.” This was the house we lived in from 1957-1960. It’s only 5 minutes from the retirement village where they live. They agreed, and I found myself standing in front of the house at 700 East Marble Street.

I peered into the front window and heard music- and saw a tall, handsome, dark haired man and a lovely, dark haired young woman dancing with a 3 year old red haired girl and her 6 year old red haired brother.  I looked up and down the street and saw Bobby McKay (be still my 4 year old heart) riding his tricycle down the sidewalk to get me for our morning ride around the neighborhood, stopping at each person’ house for snacks. Peering into the past even further, I saw the little red haired girl’s earliest memory, as she, just 2 years old, stood, wearing turquoise footie pajamas, reached her arms up to the tall, dark haired man.

Enough!  Before I got sucked further into a vortex of the past, I shook my head. I knew the reason for all this unrestrained nostalgia. It was because of a detail I forgot to mention. It was because there was a for sale notice posted by the front door  of the house at 700 East Marble Street. It was as if, because the house was for sale, the past was somehow recoverable. Nobody was living in it, so that little family of four could be still and I somehow could be again. I even looked it up on Zillow.

My husband is used to my asking him ridiculous questions just for fun.

“Why don’t we buy it and move back to Pennsylvania and recreate the past?” I asked him.
He didn’t have to even think before he ticked off three reasons.

  1. Because we don’t have jobs there.
  2. Because we do have children, friends, and jobs in Texas.
  3. Because nostalgia is a yearning for a past that never quite was and never can be again.

I know he’s right, but just in case you’re interested, it’s 1,102 square feet, has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 3 sheds in the back (to make up for not having a basement) and  some lovely  big shade trees in the yard.

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