What do you get when you combine nostalgia with homesickness and age?

March 8, 2023

Yes…hiraeth. That’s what you get. More than nostalgia.

Our pasts are full of lost places, places we’ll never be in again. And not just homes, like this one, the one I grew up in. But the emotional space that being there occupied.

I remember the day my father raised that flagpole. My mother at the small kitchen window. The Japanese maple when it was just a sapling.

Since I moved away early, as a young adult, I’d return for Christmases. It was usually snowing but the baseboard-heated house was warm and cozy, my mother at the stove, wooden spoon in hand stirring a pot of tomato sauce, instructing me on delivery of Christmas gifts to friends of the family. Bottles of whiskey, boxes of candy, the things my parents’ generation valued. I’d get behind the wheel of her Oldsmobile and navigate snow drifts to make those deliveries.

I try NOT to remember other parts to those holidays, but my nostalgia is for that feeling of being safe in the warm house of my childhood. Even if it wasn’t always safe.

The familiar is always more comfortable than the unfamiliar.

Regardless of the facts around it.

A girlfriend I haven’t seen in a while called last night pushing my nostalgia into high gear.  We worked for the same company, but she lived in Colorado and I in California. I had staff in Colorado and so for half the month, her small Colorado ranch served as my home away from home.

Every morning before work she’d pull boots over her pajamas and go out to feed her horses. Even in dead of winter. Like a farm wife, I’d make the coffee. After work we’d go out to dinner or cook over bottles of wine in her cozy kitchen. Lots of laughter and a tradition of watching the Oscars together in her sun room built over the. years. It was cold outside, but a fire warmed us.

Nostalgia and even hiraeth are what I felt during our call.

Because M and I left our hometown so young we developed our own history apart from it, although we have plenty of nostalgia about big Sicilian family dinners with his family.

Not long ago we were in Kaua’i with friends from his law school days for more laughter and fun as we reminisced  about our young adulthood together in Tallahassee, Florida. We have our funny stories (me and someone’s fur rug, W’s ex serving us in a bar and me belligerently offering to punch her out when she poured an entire pitcher of beer in her lap…I think I was just 21 years old…so many memories…)

What’s unique is that the timeline of M and my life together was interrupted, as we divorced after our first eight years of marriage and then remarried, 26 years later. That’s right. 26 years. That trip was a tangible reconnection of that timeline. And so much fun.

In November we visited London with friends in Santa Fe. She and I were in grad school together and in the late 1970s, she, I, M and her boyfriend at the time went to New Orleans to see King Tut on tour. A few years ago the three of us and her husband traveled to Egypt together to see King Tut in his home museum. More than 40 years later. What a twist that was!

And hiraeth was the catalyst for us booking a 2023 Halloween in Santa Fe just to re-experience it at a living museum her husband chairs the board of. We did this once before, a few years ago. I remember the cold New Mexico air, the native shamans smudging us and the smell of bonfires. A Halloween to remember — and re-experience.

Oh, of course I’ll never recapture what it was like that first time. But maybe a little taste of it. Certainly, the longing.

I love connecting the past with the present.

Not everyone does. But I like remembering all those bits and pieces that make up what I have become.

Sometimes, I’ll revisit the past in a cloud of nostalgia and stay there for hours of reverie.

It’s not that times were so much better then. For many, they weren’t. It’s not that at all.

It’s that we were so innocent.

The world’s difficulties didn’t hit us in the face every day, like they do now. Our 24-hour news cycle and instant internet connection means reality slaps us in the face every day.

It’s not healthy.

While it wouldn’t be a good idea to live completely in the past, visiting it from time to time is like a vacation for me, a way to bask in those good feelings for just a little while….before heading back into the fray.

I’ve written about hiraeth before, like right HERE.

What thoughts come up for you after reading this?


16 comments on “What do you get when you combine nostalgia with homesickness and age?
  1. Jennifer says:

    Ah, nostalgia. I recently found out that one of my high school boyfriends had died. I can’t remember what he looked like–just his gorgeous blue eyes and the places we went. We never took any pictures together. It was the 70s; cameras were heavy and not easy to lug around, especially if you’re the kind of girl who didn’t carry a bag. When I started working, one of my first purchases was a camera of my own. But too late to capture high school memories. Most pictures from back then were all taken by someone else.

  2. Alana says:

    I can be nostalgic about parts of my childhood, but I learned young that I can never truly go home again. These are the thoughts your post triggered in me: I spent my first 21 years in an apartment in a city housing project in the Bronx. By the time I was a teen the neighborhood was deteriorating quickly and by the time I left it was – let’s just say, not good. I moved as soon as I graduated college; in fact, I wanted out so badly I never even attended my graduation. My parents have been dead for many years and I’m an only child. I was last in the old neighborhood in 2004, passing through after attending a beloved aunt’s funeral. It was still bad. I believe it hasn’t improved much-I hope I’m wrong. But I recently read a report saying the police precinct I lived in is one of the six most dangerous in New York City. Does all this make me sad? In a way, yes. But in a way, it motivated me in ways I can be grateful for.

    • How awful. We are seeing the bad parts of Rochester extend into my hometown, and that is pretty awful. Our little place is in the
      town next door, still ok as it’s sort of out a bit into the country. So to speak.

  3. Lauren says:

    Nostalgia has just upset me lately so I try to change my thoughts. Now that my parents are gone and our house sold (they had it for 52 years) I am having hard time connecting the past with the present so I try to leave it in the past where it can’t hurt me as much. I hope one day this will no longer be the case. It’s still too raw right now.

  4. Diane says:

    I spend a lot of time in the past–recounting tales of the ranching family I grew up in. It does give me a little respite from the maelstrom that is today’s world!

  5. Laurie Stone says:

    Sometimes I could weep from nostalgia. For some reason, the opening score from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ makes me cry, aching for a world of lost memories and people, never to be recovered. If I played it now, I’d start crying.

  6. Meryl says:

    We were innocent – that speaks to so much of our childhood, teen years and beyond. You are so right that today we are too steeped in 24/7 news. It skews our view of the world and how we live our life. Give me a simple life. It is what I strive for…

  7. Loved reading this, Carol. Sometimes I long for things in the past too, but many of them can’t be recreated even partially because of decisions I or others have made. But good memories always remain.

  8. I feel like I’ve lived at least 9 lives and probably more and moved 28 times. They all made me who I am today.

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