#202, c. early 1950s
At the end of the movie Cinema Paradiso, the adult Salvatore (“Toto”), having avoided visiting his Sicilian home town for thirty years, comes home for his mentor’s funeral and realizes:
“And now, after all these years, I thought I was stronger, that I’d forgotten a lot of things. But in fact, I find I’m right back where I was, as if I’d never been away.”
I left home for college and didn’t come back for thirteen years. I didn’t have any hard feelings about my hometown. I’d just assumed my career would lead me in other geographic directions.
These days it’s not uncommon for kids to go away to school and not come back. Depending on where you live, the opportunities they’re looking for might just not be there.
Going back to your hometown can be like stepping back in time. But there are other triggers. For me it’s the sound of the surf crashing on the beach at the end of our street, or salt spray hissing on power lines on a windy winter night. Songs take you back. Smells, too, sneak up on your memory when you least expect it.
Photographs certainly do it, too.
202, above, shows the house where I lived until I was twelve. There are good memories in that house. Cookouts. Beach parties. Getting a swing set for a birthday. Memories of my sister’s teenage friends coming and going and my parents entertaining and singing with their friends.
But those good memories have to compete with the much larger number of bad memories, the kind you repress. My parents fought in this house and eventually divorced in this house.
You could say, by the way, that the house itself might have had something to do with this. My parents bought this house from the builder, who’d intended to live there with his family but divorced before the house was completed. My parents divorced there. Everyone who ever owned the house was or became divorced while living there.
I found these old pictures a few years ago, right about the time I met the nice young couple that own the place now. I hated to think the house would inflict its malevolent curse on them and their sweet little children. They’d undertaken a substantial renovation and expansion of the house, though. I hoped this would exorcise whatever bad vibes lingered. Just the same, I took them a print of these pictures in the hope the pictures and their renovation would remind the house that there were once happier days there.
The couple invited me to tour the house. To be honest, I didn’t want to. Too many tough memories. Like Salvatore in Cinema Paradiso, I’ve spent years getting over those memories. I didn’t need to step back into the house to be reminded of them. But the couple was so eager to show me what they’d done that I finally acquiesced. I don’t remember much about what I saw. But I do recall feeling like I was in a new house and that the corners and rooms in which I’d once hidden to avoid the noise of my parents’ discord are finally gone.