Return of the Peregrinati

A few months ago, I again walked the streets where I grew up. Any hometown is a memory palace, and moving through it unlocks feelings from long ago. Even more so when you no longer live there, and don’t visit often.

139 Barney street Armidale
The house I grew up in.

This particular visit came when covid travel/visiting restrictions (in place for several years) were finally lifted. My brother Jo & I flew to our hometown again to be with our family. Unfortunately, we both caught covid in transit and had to isolate from loved ones we’d travelled so far to be with. Upon learning that it may take more than a month to test clean, we despaired that we might be infected for the entirety of our 3 week visit. During this anxious period, we commiserated in the evenings, and spent our daytimes walking around town, each at our own speeds. Jo ranging far & wide, and me doddering through the near vicinity, as we yearned for a viral reprieve..

While strolling past certain spots, childhood memories bubbled to the surface. Passing by the house I grew up in evoked many memories.. and complex feelings, now that both I and my family are strangers there. But even nondescript spots held personal meanings. A nearby paddock was the site of ancient sports drama. A certain patch of pavement was the arena for adventures from early childhood. Other spots called to mind harrowing primary school events, a day of ‘tween angst, or wonder. Still other locations brought back moments of teen hilarity and profound sorrow.

Railway Hotel, Armidale
The pub where I worked (as a cleaner) in high school.

Our visit was in the winter months, when the old hometown is notoriously cold. Many old houses still use wood burning stoves there, and the smell of woodsmoke kindled memories of winter evenings long ago. Even today, my hometown is poorly lit at night. This too evoked the chilly work of riding my bike delivering newspapers after school, when I’d often finish well after dark. My old delivery route was not far from our accommodation, and retracing it I was again challenged by many cranky dogs, just as I had been decades ago (dealing with the front-yard Cerberus of every house was an occupational hazard of that gig.) I was amused too, to see that the hometown tradition of hoons heckling pedestrians is still in play, and that their drive-by ripostes have become no wittier over the years:

What are ya!

Get a big black dog up ya!

etc (ie: the classics)

Armidale railway station
Armidale railway station.

Alex, the 3rd Peregrinating Baker Bro, soon arrived too (from the UK). He had the great good fortune to be abused by this welcoming committee within minutes of arriving at the railway station, while walking the dark streets to meet us. (When a wandering Armidillian returns from the far side of the world to taunts from a random Armidale yobbo, he knows- “Ah.. I’m home..”)

Thankfully, Jo & I avoided infecting Alex, despite sharing digs with him. Best of all, we tested clean soon thereafter, and were finally allowed to visit Dad in his care facility. We saw most of our immediate family in the week that remained, though in a much shorter whirlwind visit than intended. I now regret not using that earlier isolation-limbo time to sketch, but covid brain fog is not conducive to such things. Instead, I took photos and pondered aplenty.

OS bros have dinner with the Toria Crew 2022.
Pub dinner in Armidale

When walking around my hometown, I added up all the times I’d returned after leaving it, and reckoned that it totaled a mere 10-15 visits over the many decades since. At the age of 18 I left town to work in the big city, leaving the country 4 years later. What was planned as a brief overseas trip instead became living abroad for the rest of my life. Thus, I’ve not overwritten childhood memories of my hometown with many adult experiences. Events from long ago, and the feelings that went with them, are still very fresh for me whenever I return..

16 thoughts on “Return of the Peregrinati”

    • It translates to; “Fie on thee, oh base Knave!”
      (there were many other insults, but most aren’t fit to print on this here family-friendly blog..)

  1. Wow JB, master of your craft and and top of your game! You’re like a bottle of Penfolds Grange. What a beautiful little illustration (agree with DT above), with equally evocative words and photo. This post is a gem. JD

  2. Love the sketch of 139, James!!! Poignant indeed! Dad would love it!! Hope the locals resist giving you a hard time next visit!! Thanks so much for this post about “the village”!!

  3. So glad that you were able to get “home” for a visit, James. And I loved your artwork … beautiful, and very fitting.

    • Thanks Peter. The focus on this trip was my family, especially as our visiting time was so drastically reduced by illness. Next time hopefully I can see a few of you hometown crew too.

  4. Hey James!!
    Touching as always…great sketch.
    I totally relate to so many of the details you’ve described, even though my hometown was on the other side of the planet. Stoney Creek Ontario…not too far from Toronto and Niagara Falls.
    I looked up where your hometown is…bloody nowhere! But it looks lovely. A great place to grow up, I imagine.
    I hope Covid was a doddle for you. Mostly it is nothing but the foggy long version is a real drag!
    Big hugs from London.
    Phil and Lisa

    • It wasn’t a bad place to grow up. Kids were free range back then. We had the run of the town.

      catching Covid when we did was a drag. More for the bad timing than the illness itself. My brother got hit with some pretty harsh flu-like symptoms but for me it felt more like allergies (or a bad cold) with a raspy cough.

      Thanks for commenting, Phil!

    • Thanks Ken. Great to hear from you!

      Nowadays, walking past this house that holds so much personal history is strange feeling for me, now that nobody from my family lives there anymore. It is so very familiar, but I’m an outsider now.

  5. James

    I get a whiff of that “old home” feeling even just google-earthing former houses and towns (Detroit, Massapequa, Atlanta) so I can imagine how powerful it must be to actually BE there. Your drawing of memories-as-ghosts sums it up.

    • Yes. Walking past places where I was once welcome but am now a interloper.. it is strange. Most keenly felt outside the family house, or the ancestral home that my father was raised in, and used to be owned by the Baker family for several generations. Both no longer owned by anyone in my family. It even feels weird to look around my old primary school now. I used to play there, but now just I’m an old weirdo wandering around an infants’ school!

      “Call the police!”

      ha ha!

      Thanks for commenting, George!

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