One of the benefits of early retirement is that you have extra time to look back and reflect on your life. I have already an intense habit of this and have always spent a fair amount of time researching and remembering “days gone by”.
It’s a curious trait. I have read that in the early 1900s, ‘nostalgia’ was actually classified as a form of depression. While people don’t think of it that way anymore, sentimentality can certainly take you to positive or negative feelings. I think of it as a good thing, and spend an inordinate amount of time researching what has happened in my life, where it happened, genealogy work, and reading about history. Understanding what has already happened and preserving it in some way is very interesting to me.
To put this in context, I have photographed, scanned, and downloaded literally tens of thousands of pictures and documents on different people, places, and events. I often organize the memories into digital photo books so that I can look back and share them. I have probably put together 750-1000 pages on my family tree, my wife’s family tree, and our time together since we got married 25 years ago.
I went on a trip to Michigan two weeks ago where I tacked on an extra day to visit one of the handful of ‘hometowns’ I grew up in. My Dad worked as a JCPenney store manager, so we were moved around the Midwest every 3-4-5 years until I left for college. Each of the five stops we made roughly corresponds with a certain stage of my life – baby, preschool/kindergarten, grade school, junior high, and high school. My visit this week was to the town I lived in during elementary school – Hillsdale, Michigan. I spent a full day there. It was a real chance to indulge in nostalgia!
I had driven through Hillsdale with my wife and parents 20+ years ago. We just snapped a couple quick photos and headed out. This time, I wanted to spend some time there and really see the place again in detail, since it was 38 years since we had moved away (12 years old – starting 6th grade). I had kept up town happenings through a town Facebook page that people use to post old town photos, but this was my chance to see everything up close once again.
It is an odd experience to walk through a city that has lived only in your memory for almost 4 decades. You feel a bit like a ghost everywhere you go. You are a resident of that city from another time, yet as you search for meaning in what is the same and what has changed, you are moving through someone else’s present day. I guess that’s why they say that one is visiting their ‘old haunts’.
It’s funny that the everyday places & events where we live our lives are often the most elusive to find in our photo albums. We often have snapshots of holidays, graduations, and other special events, but the school we went to every day, the place we worked, or the park we played in are rarely captured in film.
Many of the emotions you feel are very personal and come gushing from the hidden spaces in your subconscious when you find yourself back in a familiar environment: the place you played your first baseball game, the store you used to buy candy at, the school room of your favorite teacher, or the house you celebrated your ‘best Christmas ever’ as a kid. None of these threads of childhood are that remarkable to anyone else but they mean an INCREDIBLE amount to you.
My visit to Hillsdale worked out really well and I took hundreds of photos that I will relish having. My grade school was closed up years ago, but a facilities manager was nice enough to meet me on his lunch hour and unlock it for me I could walk around. Similarly, the secretary at our family church gave me the tour of the 1856 building and adjoining ‘Luther Hall’ – she said I was the second person in two days to visit their childhood hometown and ask to see the buildings.
Some of the pictures I posted online and already hundreds of people have liked, commented, and thanked me for posting them. Particularly pictures of the classrooms inside our grade school. Those rooms – where our wonder first turned into knowledge of the world – seem to hold an incredible amount of memories for everyone. I guess I am not the only one that is afflicted with a deep sense of sentimentality.
It was fun to have this time & opportunity to explore my old hometown and indulge in some nostalgia. There are a couple of other childhood places I would like to visit.
Is there a place and time would you like to most revisit? Will you do it?
Image: MrFireStation.com; Joseph W. Mauck Elementary School, Hillsdale MI