It’s been so long, I think I’ll open with something light, before I even attempt to explain the title, the cryptic detail photographs, and this post that’s been ruminating since July.
So you’ve all probably seen those amusing picture+words images on Facebook. This morning, I saw this one that had a picture of an ordinary looking house and text that said this: I went by the house I grew up in and asked if I could go in and look around. They said no and slammed the door… Parents can be real jerks.
Ba-dum ching, right?
Lucky me, I don’t actually have that problem – neither the parents who are jerks nor the inability to re-visit my childhood homes, because my parents still own them both. (Actually, my mom once pointed out that my father currently owns every house he’s ever lived in, with the exception of the fraternity house at college…
When I saw that thing on Facebook this morning, I got inspired to finally sit the frick down and attempt to write this post I’ve been meaning to write since July. Trouble was, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say or how I wanted to say it. To be honest, I’m still not; but I’m sitting here, and I’m writing it, so that’s something.
I say I’ve been meaning to write it since July because that was when I was last able to re-visit my first childhood home. The second one, my parents currently live in; I know I’m welcome there any time, with or without warning, and I have my own key. Now the first one, where I lived from birth until age almost-11, is a different story. Yes, I said my parents still own it, but they don’t just keep it on hand, sitting empty, for funsies; they rent it out. And I don’t know all the ins and outs of the landlord/renter relationship, but I get that it’s not really kosher to just randomly traipse people through the place even if you do own it. So, I had to wait until the place was unoccupied for my parents to take me there, and that time came this summer. The place was between renters, and it stayed empty for a few weeks while some work was being done on it, and stars (and schedules) aligned and I was able to get in and see it again.
Kicking back to the rumination — as I said, I’ve been filing things away for this post for months — I am reminded of a presentation I saw my supervisor give a couple of weeks ago. She was speaking to a group of college freshmen about local history, “reading” photographs, and “sense of place.” She led them in a story circle exercise, asking them questions like: Where were you born? Where are you from? and What do you consider ‘home’? (These questions all sound very similar, but they have different connotations and may elicit 3 totally different answers from the same person.) In opening up the story circle portion, she showed two photographs on the screen – an historical photograph (circa 1900) of her grandparents’ farm in Indiana and then a more contemporary photo of the same house, courtesy of Google Maps streetview. When she showed the older picture, she said that it looked more like what she remembered, and then going to the newer photo she added, “I think I’d probably cry if I saw the place today.” You, too, huh?
Judging from her inflection in that statement about crying over the current state of a beloved childhood place, I think I was crying for that same reason when I saw my old house in July. I’ll not go into details, because for one, my father wouldn’t want me to, and for another, that’s really not what this post is about. Point being, though, this most recent time, I don’t think it would confuse anyone as to why I might have been sad.
But this wasn’t the first time I had seen it since we moved out. I know I visited it once when I was about 12 or so (a year or two after we left). And I had been inside again once a few years ago. Both of those times, there actually were renters in it, but Mom knew I’d been wanting to see the place again, so she asked, and they assured her they didn’t mind.
Now, I don’t remember being sad or how I felt at all that time when I was 12. But the time a few years ago, the place looked perfectly fine. In fact, it was Christmas time, and the placed was all decked out with meticulously done holiday decorations, and there was literally a beautiful Christmas tree in each room of the first floor. And yet I still started sobbing in the middle of the dining room. What the hell, right?
They even asked me – I can’t remember if it was my mother or my husband – why I was crying, and I remember saying, “I don’t know.” I also remember that I knew I would cry before I went, but I couldn’t put words to why.
So, going back to today and that joke image about visiting your childhood home. I didn’t include the image itself in this post (except to link to it) partially because copyright (boo) and partially because I didn’t care for the look and feel of it. I spent about 20 seconds Googling “the house I grew up in” to see if I could find something similar but more attractive, but I blew that off because I “saw a butterfly” in the search results. It was another image, explaining the Welsh word “hiraeth”:
What is this? A word that sort of explains missing times and places that don’t really exist anymore? (OK, obviously the house still exists, but the house as my house, the house of my childhood no longer does.) A little more Googling on the Welsh hiraeth also led to Portuguese saudade, as well. I think both of these are probably tinged with a bit more cultural nostalgia than what I’m attempting to express, but I thought they were both pretty interesting words that are at least as close as I’ve seen, if not quite right. (I should really cease being surprised every time I have a “there’s a word for that?!” moment. I’m sure there is a word for everything; I just don’t happen to know them all.)
So what’s with all the cryptic architectural detail photos? In case you hadn’t guesses, these are from the photos I took at my old house that day this summer. (Did you really think I wouldn’t want to take a few — or a few hundred — photos of the place? Have you met me? OK, well, actually, most of you maybe haven’t…but anyway. Yeah I like photos.) The house is over 100 years old, so it has some pretty neat woodwork and other things going on, so in addition to the wide shots of every room (EVERY room), I wanted some close-ups as well.
Finally getting to the point of all the things: what does the title of this entry have to do with anything? You probably recognized it as a line from the recent Ed Sheerhan hit, aptly called “Photograph” (lyrics, music video).
The day I went to see my old house, I got off work early (so I could get there before it got too late in the evening- as this house is 2 hours from where I currently live), and of course as I was starting up the car, I was thinking of what I’d be doing that afternoon, and the first song that came on the radio as I was driving away was that song. Now, I don’t think the song is actually about a house, in any way, but when I hear these lines, I think of that moment, and I think of my house:
We keep this love in this photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Our hearts were never broken
Time’s forever frozen still
The time you can’t visit anymore? The place you maybe can’t visit anymore? At least, not as it was then; it can never be just as it was then, ever again, even if the physical space remains.
We keep this love in a photograph.
Please forgive my epically amateur Photoshopping skills.
I haven’t scanned a lot of my mom’s photos – mostly only my grandparents’ – so I didn’t have tons to work with already on my computer…
…but you get the idea.
This one might be my favorite overlay:
Not an overlay but I’m sharing anyway:
We made these memories for ourselves.
I have this thing hanging in my living room that says: “Home is where your story begins.” I was thinking about that this morning, in trying to figure out what I wanted to say in this post as well. I remember thinking, “That’s not necessarily accurate, depending on how you interpret it.” (Cue ridiculously pedantic explanation.) Going back to the whole story circles thing from earlier, what you currently consider “home” may or may not be the same place that your story begins, especially depending on how you choose to begin or define “your story.” I wasn’t thinking about it that hard when I bought it, and so I interpreted it that your story (your life) begins (began) at a place you consider(ed) home. Home is where a lot of your life happens (or happened).
So, that place was home. That house was the backdrop for a lot of the moments of our lives, for a lot of years. In fact, before my parents even lived there, before they were even married, the house is literally the backdrop for some important moments, such as the following, because my mom grew up in the house next-door (the one on the right):
And because my grandparents lived next-door to that house for several years, in a longer story I won’t get into right now, my grandmother had these photos showing the house shortly after it was first built and the family who lived in it for the first 70 years:
I wonder what they would think of the house today? I wonder what they might have thought about the house when we lived in it? It has certainly changed a lot over the last 100 years.
So. I wanted to write a little something to commemorate my recent visit to my childhood home. And par for the course, I instead wrote a lot of something. (Again, have you met me?) I couldn’t put my finger on what it is about the place that makes me feel the way I feel about it. A bit of “neat old house,” a lot of memories and nostalgia, a lot of just me being hyper-emotional about all things micro-history (and oh god, if we’re talking about my own personal micro-history).
I think I’m all poured out. I’ll leave you with one last questionable Photoshop job, and I think I’ll peace out: