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In the Distance Fading December 13, 2010

Posted by monty in personal.
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Tomorrow I make the long drive up I-75 to Ohio.  I’ll travel through the beautiful North Georgia and Tennessee mountains, across the Kentucky wastelands (a state that is, as far as I can tell, waaaaayyyy more racist than I even imagined Georgia would be), and up the interminable I-71 corridor from Cincinnati to Columbus, where, in that two-hour stretch of hell’s roadway, I will get my fill of strip malls, barren fields, and megachurches.  This will be my first Christmas since my parents moved out of my childhood home, and I’m surprised at the lack of nostalgia I feel.

I had a lot of good years in that house.  I lived in it from the age of 6 until I went to college at 18; summers for the next four years were spent there; and I visited once or twice a year for almost 15 years after that.  Even if I don’t feel a particular attachment to the house itself, I’m surprised that I don’t feel more wistful about the land that surrounded it.

Growing up, I’d disappear into the woods behind the house for hours at a time.  I’d tell my parents I was having “adventures,” and I’d go tearing into the woods with a stick as a sword, or else I’d cram my grandfather’s old fedora on my head, attach an imaginary bullwhip to my belt, and go make like Indiana Jones for a while.  I’d spend the afternoon dodging poison ivy and running myself ragged across the shifting mosaic of light and shadow on the ground.

Or I’d be out amongst the whispering stalks of corn in the field next to the house.  When I was little I’d wend my way out to the middle of the field and lay down between the rows and watch the swaying tassels superimpose themselves on the cerulean sky overhead. In the fall and winter, once the harvest was done, I’d go out into the field and scavenge.  I didn’t know what I thought I’d find, but I was hoping the tractors and combines would have churned up something valuable from the earth.

Lots of good bike rides started from that house.  The patchwork of flat country roads provided me with a seemingly endless number of routes to take, and I’d start off on my ten-speed Schwinn with no particular destination in mind.  When I think about how hyper-sensitive parents are now, it’s surprising to remember how I’d tell my parents I was headed out on a ride and then I’d just disappear for an afternoon.  Sometimes I’d explore roads I’d never traveled before, sometimes I’d ride the couple miles into town, sometimes I’d ride until something that was clearly demanding to be explored caught my eye.  I remember spotting a stream I’d never noticed before, parking my bike under a tree by the road, and then following the stream for an hour or more until it emptied into a marshy area in the middle of a field.  I was probably 11 or 12 at the time, and my parents had no idea where I was.

I entertained friends and girlfriends there.  I went through elementary school, junior high, high school, and college there.  I parked several different cars in the driveway’s turn-around and left the house on summer mornings for half a dozen different shitty high school and college jobs.  I raked leaves, mowed the grass, and helped my dad the high school principal clean toilet paper out of the trees.  I camped in the backyard and ran through the sprinkler and its dewdrop rainbows in the front.   I shot hoops in the driveway and hit tennis balls off the garage door, hour after hour.  I discovered that if I flooded the garden in the back yard with the hose, I could make the perfect swampy battlefield for my G.I. Joes.  I chased fireflies through the velvet dusk of summer evenings and felt the frost crunch under my shoes as I trudged across the grass to catch the bus on winter mornings.

Before too much longer I will have spent more time outside Ohio than I did inside it, yet part of me still thinks of myself as an Ohioan.  Here in Georgia, whenever I hear somebody say something or act a way that sounds or looks particularly “Southern,” part of me can’t help but think, “Thank goodness I’m a Northerner,” ignoring the fact that I spent the last 15 years in California, which has its own peculiar set of rules governing etiquette.  These feelings of “Northern-ness,” the identity I have, and the way I conduct myself – all of it is inextricably linked to that house and the things I learned there as I was growing up.  In fact, much of who I am can’t be separated from where I grew up.

But for all that, I feel no particular attachment to this house, no wistfulness or sadness that I never had the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to that part of my life, the part where I learned how to be who I am.  It feels like I owe that place something.  It’s the place my parents chose to raise my brother and I, and the place where they stayed after he and I left home.  It saw us both through school, through graduation, through grad school; through my dad’s retirement; through my mom’s cancer, her remission, and the cancer’s return.  I can’t figure out if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, to want to feel nostalgic for something.  The desire to feel is commendable, but the lack of feeling seems problematic, as though I’m missing some component that other people just automatically have.  I don’t know what it means, but as fondly as I remember that place – home – I can’t help but describe it in this way, for better or worse:

My parents lived there for a time, and so, too, did I.

*****

Current listening:

Pulp – Separations (1992)