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Mpls, MN, United States

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Monday, April 06, 2009


Because I am supposed to be re-writing the paper I gave a Dry Run for on Wednesday (which I had already re-written, you may recall, following dissertation workshop the preceding Friday), in anticipation of my New Orleans conference presentation this coming Friday (for which I fly out on Thursday); and because the Wednesday after that my students hand in their final papers (which I will have just two weeks to grade [before the final exam], in the middle of which fall my two-hour lecture for that class and my last submission to the dissertation workshop), I am, instead, distracting myself online.

I was looking up a flight to Portland for a May conference to which I was just accepted, and from there was looking at my options for getting from the airport to the conference site and the friend's house where I'll be staying. As I was looking at the map, I recognized the highway we used to take to get to school, and from there, it was the shortest of jumps to look at my childhood home on Street View. Although I've looked up my current residence, my parents' house in DHS, and countless commercial sites, it had never occurred to me to look up the house where I spent ages seven through eleven, and which frequently shows up in my dreams (including this recent one).

I haven't been back in person since we left, and at first I didn't even recognize my old house. In the 17 (yikes!) years since I lived there, the occupants have redone much of the front yard and have put up a strange wooden screen around the front door. Still, as I studied the image, I recognized the huge maple, unmistakable in the middle of the yard and looking like an old friend. As I clicked up and down the street, I remembered the neighbors who had lived in the houses around us, and the big pines where the street dead-ended at the railroad tracks, where we'd had little picnics and run around. Much of it was very familiar, and highly evocative of childhood memories and sensations.

Looking at my old neighborhood as a grown-up, though, I also found myself a bit depressed. The fact that the photos were captured on an (uncharacteristically!) gray day can't have helped. Things probably did look better two decades ago, before the Northwest weather wreaked its usual trick of turning everything mossy, damp, and droopy (if still impressively lush and green). And the neighborhood, which was always an interesting mix, in hindsight, of quite stately homes and smaller, less-kempt ones, may not have aged all that well. My idyllic childhood home, although plenty respectable, was rather generic, a bit dishevelled, and certainly aging.

The strangest sensation was the concurrent distanced objectivity and opacity lent by, in addition to the computer screen, decades of life and experience, and the surprisingy visceral intimacy prompted by a location I loved so much and filled with the memories only a child of that age can.

Many of my friends grew up in a single house, in which their parents may still live. I was always rather jealous of this. When I went to my neighbor's parents' house for Thanksgiving a few years ago, I got to see her still-intact childhood bedroom. I don't know if those people have more, or fewer, dreams about the homes they lived in with their parents.

I feel plenty fortunate that my parents left the cold Northwest for sunny southern California several years ago, and that I get to visit them there. Now that I'm older, I can even appreciate our multiple moves and the fact that I got to live in many parts of the country.

In a few days I'll be visiting New Orleans for the first time since we moved to the house I just visited virtually. I remember very little of it, though I can still conjur the scent and flavor of a French Quarter beignet and fully intend to test those memories against the real item.

I had always wanted to return to the city as an adult; after Katrina, I figured I'd never be able to return to the same city. Then again... you never really can, anyway.


Curly Sue said...

I'm totally on board for some beignets. Yum!

Also, I loved your paragraph-long opening sentence.

Teri said...

We did drive by that house after grandmas memorial -- maybe you weren't with us...

I'm sooo excited you're coming our way next month! What's your ETA for Walla Walla?

CëRïSë said...

Leah, I can't wait! Woo!

And Ter, I wasn't there for the memorial, though I do remember hearing about the drive-by from Mom and April. When we get to W2 will depend on if we go up to Seattle after Portland. If so, we'd probably be out as soon as Sunday evening (the 17th); if not, maybe Monday or Tuesday. And then hopefully I'll be out a few weeks later for a longer stay! I'll keep you posted on both as I know more.

Ern said...

My mom and I were just discussing last night how disruption in childhood (like moves) affects your ability to navigate change and how it influences your expectations of stability in adulthood.

(Incidentally, I grew up in the same house from age 3-18 and I never dream about it.)

You have lots of fun travel coming up!

I Hope So said...

mmmmm, love me some beignets.

though i lived in the same 5 mile radius until i was in my early twenties, i did live in quite a few different houses. but i dream mostly of the house i lived in from 10 to 14.