In a recent post on Brevity Blog (BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog | Daily Discussions of craft and the writing life (wordpress.com)) Abigail Thomas briefly shares what she felt when she came across old work, the paper so old it was the color of ‘weak tea’. Thomas is an all-time favorite author of mine. The long-forgotten piece she had written brought up the term nostalgia and how a certain item or memory brings to the surface an emotional, and yes, even physical element. I love how she sums it up:
“The Indo-European root for nostalgia is ‘nes-,‘ and it meant “to return safely home.” I don’t think we have a word for returning safely home—maybe life is more treacherous now. And somewhere along the way another element was added—the longing for home, something or somewhere that once did or maybe did not ever exist. I remember asking my friend Chuck if he got that kind of longing, a longing for something without knowing what it is, that physical feeling—”Of course,” he said. “So what is it we are longing for,” I asked because Chuck had answers to all my questions. “There isn’t any it,” he said, “there is only the longing.” Well, the longing is everywhere now, filling the room, and I sit here breathing, breathing it in, breathing it all the way in.”
Many years ago, when my parents were alive and well, they had moved from southern Arizona back to the farm dad lived on as a teenager and before he left for the Navy. A little square ordinary house. As a little girl, I spent much time in this house, yards, and woods. It was another ‘home’ for me. A place I could roam, not be nagged at, and not feel the need to lean into certain expectations.
At night Grandma Olive always lay in bed with me in the snug little guest room, the tall security light behind the house, filtering through the curtains. Once I was asleep, she crept back to her bed where Grandpa slept soundlessly despite a ballgame crackling over the radio and snapping it off. A silence that held you safe.
There was a point in my home, things were not going too hot. I was in the middle of everything from husband, son, work, and all the changes those incurred and sucking me into. I needed to go ‘home’. My brother and dad picked me up at the airport in St. Louis. Once we drove into the long narrow gravel lane, I felt an instant ‘settling down’. Peaceful. On this visit, I didn’t go anywhere. Anyone that wanted to visit, came to the little house. I needed quiet walks in the woods alone and with my dad, nosing in and around the old barn, mom’s fresh blackberry cobbler, dozens of episodes of Gunsmoke with dad’s homegrown popped corn, a game of double solitaire, heads bent over picture albums, and my journal. It was the first time I had been in that house overnight since I was thirteen. I needed the sound of my parents sleeping, the old security light filtering across the bedspread, the purpose of an intimate country night.
The last night I was to be there, Dad came in and sat on the bed. “I’ve got it all figured out. ” “What Dad?” “I’m going to call Allen and tell him you are not coming.” We sat beneath an evening crushed with stars. “I’ll miss you, Sally.”