Tag Archives: nostalgia

Feels Like Home

14 May

haemonic’s post yesterday about Flunk Day has me thinking about my own alma mater (the first one). Has me a little bit nostalgic.

I spent my entire life up til age twenty-two living in Upstate New York. The ‘burbs around Rochester, to be specific. And while I have grown to love northern California for it’s particular charms, there are a few things that I miss from New York.

1. Proper Seasons

Seasons. You know: winter, spring, summer, fall? Here in the central valley I joke that we have two seasons: wet and dry. Fall seems to just melt into cold rain and then suddenly spring flowers are blooming in February. My first year out here I saw a daffodil blooming on Valentine’s Day and stopped in my tracks. Daffodils are for April! And while I honestly don’t miss dealing with snow (shoveling it, wearing a parka and a scarf and gloves, brushing off the car) I do miss seeing snow. In my head snow= winter. Christmas needs snow! The handful of years I’ve stayed in California for Christmas it throws off my whole seasonal clock: “It can’t be March, we haven’t had Christmas yet.” I also miss proper fall colors. The leaves do change out here, but later, around November. And then they typically all fall off in a big whoosh in one day after a cold snap. Here the fall colors are in November, instead of September when it is proper!

The trade off is that I’m regularly out and about in the sunshine on weekends in March when my family is still socked-in with snow. So you know, not entirely a bad thing, different climate.

2. Proper Deli

Delicious noms

Now THIS is what I'm talking about


This one was baffling to me when I first moved out here. On the east coast, especially the Northeast with NYC and Philly, people are serious about their delis. Our neighborhood grocery store had a deli counter that is easily three times the size of any I’ve seen here in a grocery. (You see that photo up there? That is a proper deli counter. It extends beyond the woman in green.) The discrepancy was even more obvious to me because I spent time in college working behind one of those counters. We had eight kinds of ham, nine kinds of turkey, three varieties of roast beef. We had olive loaf and head cheese and liverwurst. Five varieties of Swiss cheese. If someone new came up and said simply “give me a half pound of ham” we’d have to ask them three or four questions and probably give samples to determine what they liked. Out here, there are typically two varieties of ham, four kinds of turkey including the “fancy” flavored ones, and two types of Swiss. Plus, everything costs more because it’s California. Disappointing!

3. Proper Bagels

Bagels are a big deal in the Northeast. Families will buy a dozen every week. Everyone I knew had bagels on the weekend, had bagels in the breadbox or the freezer. Toast pales in comparison to a bagel. A real bagel that is. Here’s the deal with proper bagels: you have to boil them first. Boil, then bake. That’s what gives them that characteristic “snap” on the outside surface. It is also what makes them harder to chew. Classic bagel flavors are all savory: garlic, onion, pumpernickel, sesame etc. I have no problem with the sweet ones like blueberry, cranberry and whatnot, provided that they are actually bagels.

Somewhere along the line, it was discovered that many Americans have no clue what a bagel is supposed to be like. And so they cut out the boiling step and just bake the darn things. I like to call these abominations “round bread”. Panera is definitely guilty of this. I think most of the pre-packaged bagels like Thomas’ are the same way. Now don’t get me wrong, the things that Panera sells as “bagels” are delicious. But they are not really bagels.

I think that Noah’s Bagels makes them properly out here but I haven’t had any in a while. Now that I’m doing the low-carb lifestyle thing it’s mostly a moot point, but it would be nice to have the real thing for a treat once in a while.

delicious noms

Mmmm, carb-y goodness

4. Thunderstorms

This may seem like an odd thing to add, but there is something magical about a thunderstorm to me. Watching the lightning streak down in perfect bolts, counting for the thunder. There have been exactly two thunderstorms in the seven years I’ve lived here. I know that it is exactly two because I immediately dropped what I was doing and went and watched both of them at the window. The first one also made me cry because it made me homesick. We had thunderstorms every summer back home. Usually on a hot August evening. It rains year round back home, you see, unlike here where May arrives and it stops raining until November. I miss thunderstorms. I remember being a kid with all of us sitting around the window, holding our breath, waiting for the next spectacular bolt to arc and split the sky. We’d shut off all the lights, the fans would be running to air out the muggy summer air (no central air in those days), all four kids quiet for once. Free entertainment. Mother Nature puts on a good show.

5. Songbirds

Now, don’t get me wrong, we have songbirds out here. They just aren’t the same ones I grew up with. The most obvious absence is the Northern Cardinal with his brilliant red feathers and distinctive chirp. We’d often see matched pairs at my parents’ feeders, the brilliant male and the dun-colored female. Even the female has red accents though, and they make a handsome pair in the trees. I also miss Blue Jays even though they are actually quite obnoxious at the feeder. I love the little crests on their heads and how they’ll crack whole peanuts with glee. Blue Jays have an obnoxious squawk instead of a chirp, but it was a sound I was familiar with.

Out here we have the Scrub Jay instead. While they are quite pretty as well, and they also squawk, the squawking is totally obnoxious to me. It is like nails on a chalkboard. Before I knew what they were called, I derisively referred to them as “Squawky Birds”. And they were everywhere, making a racket.

Other noticeable differences: fewer spring Robins. The goldfinches are a different species (Lawrence’s vs American) and there are no purple finches.

All of it combines to make being outdoors a different experience. We do have chickadees and sparrows, but the difference is more obvious now when I do return home and hear all those bird songs again.

What are your “home things” that you miss?

What about you? Have you moved away from “home”? What do you miss most? Is it a place? A food? The weather? Have you moved a lot and gathered little favorites from several places? Share your story in the comments!

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The House My Memories Built.

28 Jan

My cousin Jenni is a photograph terrorist and has been uploading pictures from our formative years. Her reasons are simple enough – a deep rooted desire to humiliate her family members all the while evoking nostalgic yappery – but after seeing one picture with me in a pink knit skirt suit with huge swans all over it . . . well? Let’s just say I could go on a rant about the awesometastic misery that was 80’s fashion. Instead, though, I think I’m gonna ramble on about something else, namely the backgrounds on the pictures and the house I grew up in.

If someone has a quasi-decent childhood, I’m pretty sure where they went from toddler to child to teenager has significant emotional meaning, especially if it happens to be the same house. Barring you lived someplace weird, of course:

"Oh no, someone shit sherbet at us again!"

I lived in the same house from the ages of eight to about seventeen. I may romanticize this house some? But holy shit was it awesome. Like, I had the coolest-house-of-all-my-friends awesome. It was built in the 1700’s – maybe earlier actually (my mother might pipe in to give an actual date). It was an old farm, so we had cornfields all around us going back for acres and acres. There were hideaway crawl spaces throughout the house in case of Indian attack.

I was safe thanks to my secret tunnels!

A few of the other amenities of Casa de Embryo Hillary:

* A staircase that went nowhere. Yeah, like the Winchester House.
* A dirt floored cellar that was probably where someone hid bodies, because there is no other purpose for a place that god damned terrifying. Black and smelly with spiders the size of your head and . . . ugh.
* A huge barn that had become a garage over time. The best part? The BATS IN THE BELFRY. Well, where a belfry ought to be if we had a belfry. You get the point. Swarms of bats would soar out of the barn’s upper double doors during the summer, and we’d sit around and watch them eat mosquitoes.
* Ghosts. (We’ll come back to this one)
* The original outhouse in the back. Yes we had indoor plumbing, but no one bothered to knock the outhouse down for some inane reason. They were nice enough to board over the poop hole in the bench, though.
* Servants quarters! Still standing! And apparently a death trap as my mom never let me play in there.
* Two streams to either side of the house that housed snapping turtles. Yeah, funny story about my mother in a three piece suit and heels trying to shovel a snapping turtle into a Rubber Maid trash bin one morning because the stupid turtle got lazy/distracted moving from one stream to the other and was taking up residence in the driveway behind the cars.
* A walk in pantry.
* A real old fashioned claw and ball tub. It was so deep you could drown people in it if you wanted to. Mind you, we had no shower – that was far too advanced – but we did have the best bathtub ever.
* An enormous weeping willow tree dead center of the back yard.
* The totally random, abandoned urns of people we didn’t know in the attic. See: Ghosts.

Okay so you may not believe in ghosts. I get it, and I understand it. Ghosts don’t make any sense. I mean, the first thing everyone thinks of is this:

But there were a few things that happened at that old place that were downright weird, and all of it we attested to the unclaimed dead people urns you can’t exactly throw away because that just seems rude, and Mrs. Keeler. Mrs. Keeler owned that house before we moved in, and she loved it. She loved it so much, in fact, that before she died she had someone make an audio tape of her speaking. Weird, yes, but it gets better. She basically said when she passed over she planned on returning to the house because she loved it, and anyone living there shouldn’t worry if they hear funny things going bump in the night. It’d just be her, she’d come home, and she means no harm.

I always thought the story was goofy and a little unnerving, but otherwise ignorable. Then one day we went to the cemetery up on the hill (West Bridgewater was a small town, there weren’t a lot of cemeteries and everyone was buried in pretty much one of two places). Mrs. Keeler’s son in law had died – a friend of my grandmother – and he was buried in the family plot right next to Mrs. Keeler. Her epitaph?

“Goodbye. For now.”

CREEPY OLD LADY MEANT CREEPY OLD LADY BUSINESS.

The dogs used to stand at the foot of the stairs at night, growling up at nothing. Mind you, the family would all be downstairs so who knows what they thought they saw. The first night my mom moved in, she took the doorbell off of the wall and removed the battery. Old doorbells were eyesores back in the day, really clunky with these huge cylinder things attached. She put both parts – doorbell and battery – on a shelf in the pantry, with nothing connected. The first night she slept in the house, she swears the doorbell started chiming in the middle of the night. She went downstairs to check on it and . . . yeah, doorbell still lacked the battery. My uncle, who lived in the house before us, said that sometimes there looked like a lantern light swinging back and forth at the edge of the corn fields. He’d stare out at it on summer nights. Maybe it was the twelve pack of beer, maybe it was a real ghost, who knows.

Now, believe or not, I don’t really care. Because I am a writer of all things spooky and crazy, I am choosing to suppress my logic and say IT’S ALL TRUE. I BELIEVE ALL THE THINGS.

"A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill

We moved out of the old farm house when I was seventeen and my mother decided she wanted nice things like predictable hot water. Whatever, Mom! Who needed electricity all the time and heat in the winter! (I kid, please put the beating stick down) Sadly, a couple years later, there was a fire and the awesomest house to grow up in burned to the ground. I was devastated, actually crying the first time I drove by it that something that really did help shape the person I am today was gone. When I look at it now, all paved over (and making me channel Joni Mitchell), I still go into a funk because really, what kid wouldn’t want to live in a place so cool?

I think in retrospect I had it pretty good at the old farm. I strive to one day be the owner of my own creepy house, complete with attic urns, bats, and a staircase going nowhere. It’s a good goal, I think.