The Past is Not Always What You Think It Is

What is the quote —You Can Never Go Home Again?

Perhaps that’s not the correct quotation, but its meaning hit me this past weekend.

I have always dreampt of going back to where I spent the first 22 years of my life, the house I grew up in. Now leaving home at 22 isn’t a big deal except for the fact that it was 44 years ago. We always go back to my husband’s old stomping grounds in Chicago, but that’s because we go down there to see his brother who still lives in the house he grew up in. So we always got to experience where he grew up.

But never where I did.

So Saturday we went to pick up my brother-in-law from a physical rehab center two blocks from my old house, and I asked if I could be dropped off so I could walk around the block once more while the brother-in-law was checked out.

I remember riding my bike to the back side of the block, playing with the few friends I had. Drawing on a chalkboard in one friend’s screened-in gazebo; swinging on my friend’s swingset; Fourth of July tables in front of my house. Three brothers, three girlfriends, and my first two loves of my life lived around that block. I thought I would be swept away with memories and emotions and flashbacks to days gone by.

I wasn’t.

The only thing that hadn’t changed was my house.

The back side of the block backed up to the golf course, and all the small houses that used to be there had been torn down,  huge, gawking houses replacing them. Susie’s house is gone. I don’t even recognize Lucy and Rita’s house. On my side of the block there is an apartment complex across the street from my house where houses and fields once were; even the hospital rehab center is new. The school directly across the street has grown another floor, and there’s a stoplight there, too.

The whole area has changed. The two-lane road I used to play on at 3 o’clock in the morning while my parents were packing to go camping is now a busy four lane. Further away sit new shops, gigantic houses…nothing I knew as a child.

I walked around the block, hoping, praying I’d feel that knot of nostalgia that comes with dipping into the past. The house my dad built is still there, as was Andy the old man neighbors and Lynda’s sprawling ranch.

But the thrill I thought I’d find walking through my past never came.

Oh, it was nice walking around the peaceful back of my block; I even walked past my first love’s house…if it was his house…it was so different. I walked by John’s house, the boy who never knew I existed, and his buddies the Abbotts next door.

But John and Lucy and Lynda were long gone. It was time for me to let the past go, too. I’ve walked my last walk around the block of memories.

My memories, no matter how distorted, are much better.


21 thoughts on “The Past is Not Always What You Think It Is

  1. I so enjoyed your post! Wonderful on so many levels! We have our memories of the past that are ours forever but the world around does change as you found out. I was really blessed to be able to take my wife to my 35th year high school reunion. No one from my class was there (it only had 44 when I graduated, a church school) but the campus hadn’t changed a bit! It was a remarkably moving experience for me to walk the halls and walkways of the campus I went to elementary and high school at. I was really so grateful that I went because over that summer they were planning on tearing every single building on campus down and rebuilding the school on about 10 acres of the 100 acre school grounds. All the rest had been sold to the Hospital next door.

    I was blessed to capture that memory and share it with my wife. We can’t go back to those days but it was really great to see the place the way it was when I was there 50 years ago.

    Thanks Claudia,for sharing this and bringing back great memories!


    1. I am so glad my memories stirred your memories! Just think…if you would have visited your campus a year later it would all have been gone! It is a great feeling to step back in time for a moment or two and find places and situations that touch that specific nerve where memory and reality meet. Seeing my house was that feeling. But the memories of the back side of the block fizzled. It’s a good thing we are making our own memories right now! Memories we can pass along to those who follow. You made me feel great. Thank you.


    1. I do, my friend. And I realize that your past is nothing but memories anyway. So it doesn’t matter how you remember riding your bike or playing house. It’s what you want it to be. Thank you for grounding me!


  2. Your article is so relevant for me Claudia. Yes, my family home at Ocean Grove has been bulldozed, just before Christmas. I felt very sad and hurt that they’d pull down such a glorious place of childhood memories, Oh, but like you said our memories are so much betterer .


    1. It’s so true, my friend. It’s like a member of your family was destroyed. I know I had bad times as well as good times in my neighborhood, but it was MY neighborhood. It wasn’t supposed to be touched by modern times and needs. Like a fairy tale, it’s supposed to be wonderful memories wrapped in a hazy gauze of time and youth. Not highways and stores and fancy alien houses.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you dear friend. I think whenever any of us think of the past it becomes nostalgic. I know for me I don’t remember the pain as much as the soft flashes of memories I choose to remember as wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Everything changes so fast !!!So in 44 years the changes must be huge, even the people change. I often get a shock when I see someone after a long time, sometimes they are almost unrecognisable (mind you, they must think the same about me then :D).


    1. I understand that change is part of life. People change, jobs change, people come and go in your life. I think that I had thought about having a romantic, spritual walk around that block one day. That day came, and I hate to say it but I was really disappointed. But do not fear — I am happy in my house with woods in the back and farmland on either side.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But it looks to me that everything changes faster and faster or is it because we are slowing down cos of our age ??:D although times goes faster and faster ?????


        1. Oh…I swear the older I’ve gotten the faster time goes. Flies by. Takes off like a rocket. I know nothing stays static forever; I just didn’t apply that logic with my old house. But I do believe that when you love your life, the people in it, you realize how precious every minute is. And wasn’t your son just a baby instead of 35 years old. All of that. So the good thing is that you and I are getting older together!


  4. I have done the same and you are correct. . . memories are often better. I use the example of the pizza joint of my pre-teen years. I have never had pizza as good. I went back there after almost fifty years…same name, but the pizza was just “OK”. I It’s been fifty years, but can still taste it in my memory and it tastes good.


    1. Did the place look the same? Feel the same? My house looked like it always did, which was perfect. But everything around it truly aged forward. But in my memories I’m still swinging in my own back yard, watching the planes go over.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I had a very similar experience when I flew back to La Mirada, CA for my 40th high school reunion. There were very few things that felt familiar – as if the dust of time had blew off everything that connected me there. I actually had the courage to knock on the front door and the new owner invited me inside. It looked very small and plain.
    My memories are so full of feeling and color.


    1. Oh that’s so true! I’m glad I didn’t go inside my house — it was so big when I was little, but now I realize it was only 950 square feet. A Chicago bungalow. And that would depress me even more. I guess that’s the real sign of getting older — realizing things DO change, like they should, and we didn’t. That’s okay too.


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