Retirement Reminiscing – My Old School

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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

15 thoughts on “Retirement Reminiscing – My Old School

  1. I now live about 20 minutes from where I grew up. It’s not the direction I generally travel when I’m out and about, but once in a blue moon, I need to head out that way. When I do, I make sure to drive past my elementary school, down my old street, and past the house I lived in for most of my childhood.

    You’re absolutely right that it makes you a little sentimental. Every time I do this, I reflect on things – I start reminiscing and wondering what became of some of the friends and neighbors who I never kept up with.

    — Jim

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  2. I’ve now moved away from my hometown, but every time I go back I make it a point to visit one of my favorite places on Earth: The girl scout camp that had a huge impact on me growing up. It’s fun to see all the new changes, but sad to see some of my favorite aspects fade away into the past.

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  3. We visited my childhood hometown in the midwest last summer. I’m not sure the place had changed all that much, but my perception was certainly off kilter. The “princesses castle” that I believe housed the local swimming pool was really just a two story pink sandstone building. The huge house that I grew up in was not really so huge at all – it must have been that I was so small! It wasn’t really disappointing, but it sure brought back lots of old memories! Thanks for the post!

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    • Yes – everything does seem small in retrospect doesn’t it? I thought it was funny that I knew how to get to everything – which streets to take – even though when we moved away I was only 12 years old and had only driven those streets on a bicycle.

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  4. Wow, that’s great that you were able to tour the old school and the facilities manager was nice enough to extend the favor. I’m still pretty local to 15-20 minutes to where I grew up. After graduating high school I went back to my H.S. a few years later as a teaching assistant while in college. It was strange to have the memories and now be on the other side. So true about the places that we spend the most time often have the fewest photos. I love the chronological photo-book idea. I think I steal that one. 🙂

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    • He really did me a big favor by meeting me there, and letting me in. Even though he didn’t have to, I would’ve been really disappointed if I couldn’t get into the building. Memories just come gushing back when you are back in those spaces…

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  5. I live about seven miles from where I grew up so I drive by my elementary, junior high, and high school regularly when I visit friends in the area. I do want to visit my childhood home though. We sold it to a lovely young couple after my father died and I understand they’ve done quite a bit to the inside and backyard. Maybe one of these days I’ll show up on their doorstep.

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  6. I had the chance to visit my hometown last year for my 30th high school reunion. Connected with some of my closest friends and we spent the better part of the day going to our old “hangouts”. Many focused on food and drink – which is probably not a surprise! My family have all since moved away and I have only been back a few times. It is definitely a sentimental time. The memories are amazingly fresh though and our whole group agreed that we needed to meet back there again for our “50th” birthdays!

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  7. Very cool. I’ve driven back through the town where I spent my childhood a few times and had many of the same feelings. My elementary school was bulldozed and replaced with a two-story monstrosity; on the other hand, the house in which I grew up looked almost the same. That notion of nostalgia as depression is interesting; I usually find that a brief reflection on the past is uplifting, but if I spend hours looking through photo albums, I do find myself feeling sad, for some reason. Fun that you were able to go back!

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    • I am afraid that they will soon bulldoze my old elementary school too. There is a college nearby that would like to have the land as a parking lot I have heard. That will be too bad, as it is a really interesting art deco/collegiate gothic style building.

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  8. Pingback: Summer Break – Class of 2016 | Mr.FireStation

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