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Saturday, February 20, 2010

"You Can't Go Home Again..."

The title expression is that of a book by Thomas Wolfe, and is commonly used to mean that a person cannot go back to his childhood home and expect it to be the same, expect himself to relive his (or her) experiences and feelings; that time passes, and our childhood is gone forever .

I had just read an article in the Wall Street Journal about returning to one's childhood home, and I had never even thought to Google - sorry - to search for the apartment building where I grew up by using Google Maps until I read the article. So I did. Parts of the neighborhood are the same, but I didn't recognize the shops, nor the playground where I used to play as a little girl. When I was little, all playground equipment was made of metal: the swings, see-saws, monkey bars--which I loved to climb to the top, scaring my mother half to death--and the slides, which I used to call "sliding ponds." To this day, I don't know why (but then again, I also called pony-tails 'horses' tails, so...!)
What I saw on Google Maps was a brand-spanking new (or so it looked to me) polyethylene playground in beautiful colors of red, pink, yellow, blue, green. The playground was full of green trees and some grass, and benches. It was actually pretty; it looked so much more inviting than the one I remember: gray, metallic, with a gravelly ground which you dreaded falling on and skinning your knee, for the pain. Now, it is actually a pretty place:

Because everything is so different in my old neighborhood, I could probably get lost there; my old shul was apparently torn down (I read online that the buildings of both neighborhood shuls, one Orthodox and one Conservative, had been falling into disrepair over the years, and because renovation was so expensive it was deemed not worth it, and both buildings were sold, and subsequently razed.). But my old apartment building is still there, brick as solid as a rock. The steps going down into the courtyard are exactly the same.

Next time I'm in New York--I have no immediate plans, so who knows when that will be--I have to get up the courage to knock on my old door (apartment 3A), and explain to the current tenant why in heck I would want to have a little personal tour of his apartment. Which I'm sure will be so different that I won't even recognize it; it won't be my old place anymore.

When I went back to Israel in 2005 for my first visit since we had left in 1981, my sons and I (this is before they were married) drove to Gilo to try to find our old apartment, in the meduragim (stepped-houses). We actually found it, knocked on the door and asked permission to see it again. The owners were very nice, and allowed us to go in and walk around. I would not have recognized it--it was totally different, including the view (which was no more, it was all built up). They had removed the wall separating the kitchen from the living room, and it was a totally new kitchen (ours had been a beauty, a custom job done by an American friend of ours, long since passed away). It didn't feel like home, although my older son remembered the steps where he had fallen down at age 3 and split his face open. . .not one of our better memories, I'm afraid. Too many complicated feelings.

I guess Thomas Wolfe was right: You can't go home again...



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10 comments:

Batya said...

I had no real closure when we left the place I grew up in until 13. I can't go back. It freaks me out.

ps We expect you at Tel Shiloh on Rosh Chodesh, whatever Rosh Chodesh you can make.

Norma said...

I've been "going back" for several weeks. The tiny town (2800 pop) where I graduated high school, has at least 5 Facebook pages, the largest with about 1,000 participants, with ex-pats from all over the country "coming home" to share memories, put up memorials to deceased family and friends, announce events, and write "do you remember. . . " I used the google map to look at the home my parents had in the 1950s. The trees have changed, but not the house. My horse and dog are of course memories.

Ari said...

eema. home is where the heart is.....

rutimizrachi said...

I must be getting old. Ari's comment almost made me cry. Nachas, nachas...

Ari said...

Oh eema by the way. The only two teeth that are straight are the ones I knocked out on those steps!!!

Mystery Woman said...

The new playgrounds may seem more inviting, but we loved those metal ones.
And I also called them sliding ponds.

Lady-Light said...

To Everyone who commented: Please bear with me--I want to respond to all your comments, but my first priority is to be a shomeret for the kallah, and take care of several things with her...be back soon, b'ezrat H. (stay tuned...)

Lady-Light said...

Ok, so I’m finally commenting on all your terrific comments! Hope you have it set so you’ll get a notice in your inbox (or you’ll just miss out!).

Batya: That is so hard. I guess we just have to make peace with it, and move on…
G-d willing, I’m gonna be there on Rosh Chodesh; I just don’t know which one…

Norma: See, this is such a common need for human beings. Your town must have been a very closely knit community; that is generally the case with small towns. I grew up in a big city, and the “neighborhood” was just our immediate neighbors in the building, plus a few others. It was not cohesive. I wish that I had had a horse and dog, though. All we had were cats, a diamond-back terrapin and a genius white mouse named Pinky (his Hebrew name was Pinchas.).

Ari: You are so right. I love you (& miss you)!

Rutimizrachi: You’re getting old? You’re almost crying?!

Ari: You crack me up. I just have no words…

Mystery Woman: The new playgrounds are more inviting. Truth is though, the only reason I liked my metal playground, is because I was a tomboy and loved it because it was mine. If I had had a colorful polyethylene playground, I would have left my gray metal playground in a heartbeat!

Batya said...

I loved the freedom I had as a kid and looked for a place to raise my own with a similar feel. Yes, kids can walk around freely here in Shiloh, B"H.

Lady-Light said...

Shiloh. Cheap rentals? Hmmmm....how far is it by car from Yerushalayim? And Gederah?!

 
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