My Aunt Arlene is my mother’s oldest sister. She and her husband Ken are the closest thing to grandparents on my mom’s side of the family that I ever knew. I have fond memories of staying with them while mom and dad were working and spending holidays and birthdays at their place when we were young.
Today, we packed the kids up, along with our dessert (thank you, Emeril, for the lovely Cranberry-Apple Crisp), and followed my parents up to Arlene and Ken’s for Thanksgiving dinner. As we traveled the two hours north toward the area where I spent my elementary school years, I was marveling at how much and yet how little I recognized on the trip.
It’s been roughly 20-25 years since I’ve lived in northern PA. Times change. Places change. There are Walmarts where there weren’t before and empty shells of broken buildings that used to be McDonald’s. The intersection of Tedd’s Landing has changed over time, but remains basically the same as in my memory.
When we pulled off of the main road and into the little towns between the highway and our destination, I was saddened to see the buildings with cracked windows, fractured like my memories of them. Paint peeling, removing the once-held beauty that still remained in my memory. The little store that the school bus used to stop at for penny candy on the way home from school on Friday’s has, not only changed hands so many times that I’ve lost track of whether it still exists, but isn’t even where I thought it was in my mental map.
Suddenly, as we turned onto entirely unfamiliar roads, I was struck with the realization that I had never been to my aunt and uncle’s house. See, not only had their towns changed over time, but so had their lives. The garage that my uncle had owned, with the soda machine outside for which my little brother and I used to beg quarters, and the little house that I “grew up in” next to it was no longer my aunt and uncle’s home.
So we went to a new house today. An unfamiliar house. A house that wasn’t my “home” as I remembered it. A house with a huge blow-up turkey outside. We thought we had the wrong house, except their name was on the mailbox. We laughed and teased my Mennonite Deacon uncle that the next time we visited we’d see Santa or the Easter Bunny, but he assured us he was merely “turkey sitting” for the out-of-town neighbors who insisted that our children would enjoy it.
It was a cute house, but it wasn’t “home” and I doubt it will ever be the same as visiting them in the old house. It’s a feeling much like I had the first time we visited them after their dog Heidi had passed away, the Australian Sheepdog they’d owned since before I was even born. Something was just missing or out of place. But it was much deeper, far more shattered and unsettling of a feeling, like the year after my cousin, Brenda, their only child had suddenly passed away.
At least some things have stayed the same. The women still belong in the kitchen and the men in the living room prior to the meal (except for me and my hubby – but that would be an entirely different post). My aunt’s stuffing is still the absolute best in the world. There are still leftover cold turkey sandwiches for supper. And there is still the ongoing friendly “rivalry” between me and my cousin’s husband Johnny.
All of this today just makes me wonder how many other things in my life have changed. How static is our past? Does it change based on how we remember it? If enough people believe that something happened in the past, can we assume it to be true? What is the difference between truth and reality and memory?
See what nostalgia does to me? Or maybe it’s just the tryptophan from the turkey.