When Max and I travel, our destinations usually have a wholly “vacation” vibe. We are always visitors, not residents. There is no overlay of “real life” on our trips. There isn’t any consideration of work, chores, obligations, or normal day-to-day routine. As a result, our usual emotional experience of vacations is fairly one-dimensional- pleasure, relaxation, excitement, fun.
Our recent trip to California was a whole different beast. Some of what we did on the trip did constitute “vacation vibe.” We stayed in a hotel with a jacuzzi, took a side trip to Nevada to go to the casinos, and didn’t worry about responsibilities. On the other hand, we did a lot of things that recalled the time when California was our home- went to favorite restaurants, took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, visited friends. Being in a place where we spent most of our lives made it impossible to escape the impact of the remnants of our past. Things were pretty much as we remembered, but not quite as we remembered. Everything seemed too familiar to truly feel like “vacation.” The rub, though, was that everything also seemed a little too stylized to feel like “home.” California probably didn’t change. It is more likely that the different lenses through which we now look- ground by our new lives- are the reason for the differences we sensed. Reconciling those feelings of “home” and how they have changed was a huge theme of this trip.
This nostalgia created by a vacation tangled and snarled up with the memories and associations of “home” produced a much more complex series of emotions. It was fun and wonderful, but also complicated. Yes, we originally decided to vacation in California precisely to experience some of our old favorite haunts and activities that we have missed since moving to Florida. I was just unprepared to still feel so connected and, yet, so ephemerally connected to California. It was almost as if my old life in California was covered in cobwebs and I had managed to get tangled in some of those silken threads. I was always aware of the sense of being attached and always equally aware of how easy it would be to pull away from the thread. Still, I was not sure that I wanted to completely disengage… either from my California connections or the Florida connections that are just starting to form.
It was a very weird sensation that overwhelmed me several times during the trip. Everywhere I looked, I remembered the best of my times and the worst of my times. I remembered who I was and how I perceived the world during the nearly fifty years I lived in California. I remembered the experiences I had with people who are either gone from my life or who have changed radically. I remembered how satisfying it was to regularly and routinely see my friends in California. I think I felt more nostalgic and mournful about moving from California during this trip than I did when we actually moved. On the other hand, being in California didn’t feel quite real… or quite right.
The last time I went to California was a little less than a year after we moved. At that point, I was still somewhat of a stranger in a strange land in Florida. The brief trip back to California was a welcome, comforting dose of familiarity. It was really too soon for California to not seem like home any more. At that time, I had sketched in the outline of a life in Florida, but there was still a lot of blank spaces. Since then, I’ve grown and expanded my Florida life. I’ve colored in the blank spaces and the Florida life is more dimensional now. As familiar as California felt to me on this trip, it also felt weirdly unreal. It was hard recognizing that I am losing my attachment to my old home, especially when it still all felt so familiar. Familiar… yet more faded, kind of like the way a copy of a copy of a copy used to look in the days before we had digital images. Maybe it isn’t really that I am losing the attachment to California, but just redefining that attachment. California may represent my past life, but it is still my life. Surely that means there is still some kind of attachment. Besides, people I love are still part of the California life that is unfurling each day. I think that means that California life is still a present part of my life, too.
When I went to church the Sunday after returning to Florida, a friend asked me how my trip was. I replied, “It was wonderful, but I am glad to be home.” She looked at me and said, “so, here’s home now for you, is it?”
As soon as she asked the question, I realized it was true. I had said “home” referring to Florida without thinking, but I knew I meant it. California still houses a lot of the artifacts of my life- the memories and experiences that brought me to where I am now in my journey. We revisited many of those memories and experiences during our trip, sort of like the way you might go to a living history museum to discover how people used to live in the “olden days.” Then, after soaking up a dose of yesteryear, you go home and go on with your own present and future. That’s what I did. After our trip to California, I went home to my present day real life.
Have you ever gone “home” after moving away? What was that experience like for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
Have a great day!
8 thoughts on “A (Weird And Strange) Sentimental Journey”
Glad you know Florida as “home” now.
I moved so many times that I really didn’t feel that returning to a place was “home” to me. Even in CA I moved from Buena Park to several other places in the area. You did make me think that a place there was home to me, but not really. Strange…isn’t it. I never actually called one place home. I do remember my recent visit to CA and realizing that I couldn’t feel comfortable driving the freeways like I once did.
Interesting perspective, Lois…. I guess moving around a lot teaches you to take “home” with you in your heart wherever you go.
When I visit places where I lived in my past I feel many emotions…..the sense of familiarity, (comforting), a sense of wonder at the changes that have taken place, the mixed emotions of memories that are evoked. But often what I feel most is sadness…….not overwhelming, just there. What I miss is not being able to actually revisit that time as it was….the people, as we were then, the houses, shops, friends’ backyards, pets, etc. I see my old house, my grandparents’ house, my friend’s house and want to walk right in and see everyone and everything as they were. I miss the countryside and farms that have been replaced by housing developments, the ice cream store and Woolworth’s 5 and dime store that used to exist. When I’m in my current home, I’m happy with my present self and life (aside from issues arising from being 68 and my husband 76). When I’m in childhood places, however, I’d like a time machine to place me back to the time I lived there…….just for a short visit!
I agree completely, Joy. Maybe some of the strangeness I experienced was because I felt connected not only to the place that I could still see but also to the time that has passed.
We visited California (northern) last year and had some of the same feelings you describe, although we only lived there for five years. We loved visiting our old haunts, the H.S. my daughter attended, etc., but it’s not home anymore. And California really changes quickly, especially in terms of development. It’s beautiful and we loved the trip, but we were happy to come home to the Midwest.
I think Joy captures it perfectly. I feel that when I visit my mom up north as well. It’s the same place, but it’s not. And the nostalgia I feel is definitely for it as it was.
California certainly does change quickly. Some of the places we visited were very much the same as when we left, but a few changed radically in just a couple of years. That did make me a bit sad, but I guess “moving” can mean “moving on” in addition to “moving away.”
Writing thru the lenses of my spouse Kari. This is her husband. We visited upstate NY in July to bury her 97 yr old father’s ashes.(can’t do that in winter). And it would have been her 4th trip back since 2006. Two of those for class reunions. I am struck by how sad it makes my wife that the town is truly dying. Businesses closing, houses in disrepair, much of main st being empty and torn down. I won’t call a name, but it is truly upstate…Canada is 10 mi. Away. The number of classmates still there do not come to the reunions….only the ones that left town usually get together at a local restaurant, get a band and dance to the 70’s music till midnight. Most left for jobs or thru marriage and never returned. My wife left around 30, due to divorce and only returned in ’06. It is almost as if we are visiting a member of the family that is sick or in a nursing home, when we return. She, I believe, is actually mourning for the town. Some family, one brother, 3 nieces and nephew still live there and all of them constantly talk of coming south asap. We live in NC and another brother in SC.
My wife went by and saw her childhood home and it is not being maintained and that was more sadness. Totally out of her control and it gives her, I believe, a sense of her own mortality. My wife is a vibrant woman, looking at retirement in 3-4 yrs, so that will be a new chapter for both of us.
Like yourself, our present home–the Mountains of NC–is now truly home. I think a person will always judge their present life against their childhood life–for good or bad.
Good to hear from you! Your comment really struck a note with me. I think you are right that sometimes the sadness comes from being face-to-face that things are not the same as they used to be. The places we visit from our childhood have changed, often not for the better. It reminds us that we have changed, too. While growing up and learning and exploring is great, there is the knowledge that, at some point, our bodies are going to let us down. I hadn’t thought about the mortality thing, but I think that was part of my sadness and disorientation. I never thought of myself as “old” even when I retired, but I think the knowledge that I am mortal and aging did come back to hit me in the face when I tried to revisit my past. Great point.
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