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.
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.
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)
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.
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..