I’ve just been over at Pauline Baird Jones’s blog, where she wrote a post entitled You can go home again. It’s a fun read, that got me thinking.
Did I agree?
No. No, I don’t think you can. Going home – really going home – is time travel and we don’t yet have a time machine. Let me explain.
I returned to Perth, Western Australia, the city where I grew up, after an absence of eight years or so since my last visit. And much longer since I lived there. I left in 1996, not long after my mother died. In 2013 we were on a road trip around Australia that included a short visit to Perth. We’d been up in the north west, driving down the coast road from Geraldton into Perth. I wrote about that experience in a post I called the world has continued to turn.
“Home” wasn’t the same place, and I wasn’t the same person. We visited the little cottage in Shenton Park where my family lived for a few years in the 1950’s. I was nearly eight when we moved to the other side of the river, to a new suburb. The memories I had of Shenton Park were those of a small child. As Pauline said, the streets looked smaller, the distances shorter, and time has slowed down over the years. That house south of the river where my mother lived for thirty years burnt down a couple of years after she died, so I can’t go there anymore. The neighbourhood has changed but I went to look at the primary school and wondered why I’d thought it was a long walk from home. The extensive bushland that surrounded the school is suburbia now. I used to walk along the sandy tracks looking for wild flowers in spring. And the pine plantation a little further away is gone, too. The river’s still there, of course. But it’s not easy to get to the little beach next to Canning Bridge where I whiled away many a hot summer day. I’ve heard, too, the sweet little river prawns we used to catch in drag nets on hot summer nights are gone, fished out. No, for me Perth is a different city to the one in my memory banks.
Then there was Amsterdam. I left when I was four and I have few recollections of my childhood. Snapshot glimpses of a month-long sea journey. Rocking horses in the ship’s kiddy playground. Brief excursions into Port Said or Aden. Amsterdam? Just memories formed from faded black and white or sepia photographs. Me in the Oosterpark, a place I was taken to frequently. I returned to the city of my birth for the first time in 1990. It was fascinating, I loved it, but I had no feeling of being ‘home’. I’ve been back several times since, and that hasn’t changed. I’ve stood outside the flat where I was born and felt nothing – except maybe a recognition of how lucky I am to live in Australia. Amsterdam’s a great place to visit – but I wouldn’t want to live there.
How about you? Have you ever tried to go home?
By the way, one of those kids in that photo up top is me. Any takers on which one? I might give away a book.