Sunday afternoon I watched the movie, Nebraska. Though there were few similarities to my own father, I couldn’t help but relate. Small rural town, redneck views, religion, politics and the “grunts” that made up male conversation. The film is in black and white, and Bruce Dern plays the elderly man who is convinced he’s won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes. His acting was Academy Award winning, but I digress…
The scene that grabbed me was when the son asks his father if he wants to go see the home he grew up in while they are in town. Father is astonished and sincere when he says “Why?” And that made me also ask the question “why?” Why do sons and daughters want to see where their parents grew up? Why do we adults want to revisit our past?
Each time I go home to OK, I drive to the east side of town to 1216 E. Elm where I lived from ages 5-18. My children enjoy the trek when they are along. The small square house changes colors periodically, the Elm trees are gone, and the front porch re-stained red.
Things in the past never seem to fare well. They almost always become broken, dilapidated, falling down. And as the movie father said, “Why on earth would I do that?” Why go see something that is no longer; that is not as it was; can never be what it was? When we return we don’t see broken windows, faded and peeling wallpaper, broken porcelain kitchen sinks or buckled wood plank flooring. No, we see what was.
When we visited relatives in Louisiana as kids, we stayed in my dad’s family home. I knew that house inside and out. I played under the fig tree where granny picked fruit for her jam. It grew for a hundred years and may still be there. The old out-house remained well after the indoor bathroom was installed, and that was well after I’d stopped going. I hated the stinky, fly-infested wooden box as a kid. Later it would hold a primary spot in my life experiences. Good or bad, pleasant or putrefying, it is still part of my DNA.
A couple years back my sister and I drove to my mother’s childhood home in Alva, OK. We took pictures of the house, of course, but then we photographed street signs, the grain elevators up the road, any signpost to guide our kids some day when they go searching, as I suspect they will.
It is simply human behavior. As children, we can’t wait to grow up and move away, and then as adults we idealize those early years. Our childhoods–our pasts–our beginnings. They pull us back to who we were when we weren’t who we are now. We cannot resist the urge. Perhaps we hope to find only the warm and happy memories. Perhaps we want to put our own spin on it. Perhaps we want to relish the fact that we grew and wizened and succeeded after we left. We survived. Or perhaps a piece of us wishes to live it all again without the pain and sadness. Childhood is not all four-leaf-clover-searching, home made ice cream or new roller skates. It’s sometimes hard to “go back.”
Perhaps the reason we return is as simple as wanting physical proof that we lived — that we existed. We accept that it will never be the same, but it will forever remain a large piece of who we are.