Yesterday, in my review of David Copperfield, I quoted this passage:
I have often remarked-I suppose everybody has–that one’s going away from a familiar place would seem to be the signal for change in it. As I looked out of the coach-window, and observed that an old house on Fish Street Hill, which had stood untouched by painter, carpenter, or bricklayer for a century, had been pulled down in my absence, and that a neighbouring street, of time-honored insalubrity and inconvenience, was being drained and widened, I half expected to find St. Paul’s Cathedral looking older.
Today, in The Bleat, James Lileks talks about his college daughter returning home:
It pains to say it, but I always dreaded going back home after I’d left for college. I had to be someone else, or at least I wasn’t going to be 100% of who I thought I was. Parents were happy to see me, everything was fine . . . there were questions, of course, but no interrogations. I had to sneak cigarettes. I had to reacclimatize to the Shrine Bedroom that held my previous life. All the high school trophies, the beatific picture of myself in 4th grade on the wall, old sci-fi books, records I didn’t want, drawers with cast-off things.
This is nothing unusual. One of the big newspapers ran a story last week about 30-somethings driven home by COVID or other knock-on effects, and how they remade their childhood bedrooms into new and fabulous spaces. It all seemed pathetic and suggested that no one running these sections thinks it’s odd that 30+ single men are faced with the dilemma of replacing their old action figures with their new action figures.
Anyway. Going back from college. If there was anything that seemed sad, it was the sense that nothing had changed, nothing had moved forward. Everything was where it had been and where it would always be. When you’re young you’re making your own world anew, and stepping back into a place where every object was precisely where you left it last time made you feel like you were visiting a mausoleum of childhood.
Okay, they’re kind of opposites, but one can hold very similar feelings at the same time, ainna?
When I came back from the university for school breaks, I was in the same room, which was kind of Spartan, and when I moved back after college, I lived with my sainted mother for about three years, but we moved from the “childhood” home down the gravel road about eight months after my return. And we’d only lived in the house down the gravel road for a year and a half of my high school years; before that, it was the trailer park for, what, three and a half years? And my aunt’s basement for a year and a half. So I didn’t really have a childhood bedroom to ossify.
Now, of course, everything has changed everywhere I have lived so that they’re completely new places by now. So I can’t go home again because I didn’t really have a “home,” and I’m coming to realize that I really don’t have any family to greet me when I got there. Present immediate family excluded, of course, but the environs around Nogglestead are developing pretty rapidly, so much so that I can already say, “I remember when these were just fields,” and I have only been here eleven years (which is longer than most of my immediate neighbors, even those in the houses that were already present when we moved in). And, to be honest, we will probably redo the boys’ rooms once they move out, so they won’t have that particular experience–or we’ll move further out into the hinterlands when they leave. But they will have a static idea of the house they grew up in because we haven’t really modified Nogglestead since we moved in, either.
Dickens noted the differences development made over a hundred and fifty years ago; I have to wonder what he would have thought of the 21st century, where the pace of change of cities and towns might very well have helped cut us off from our sense of our own past and the past in general.
But getting to a pat conclusion lamenting the state of the world based on two disparate quotes is the blogger’s stock in trade, baby.