Places can become part of us
Feb. 27, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

I recently crossed paths with the people who bought the hobby farm where I once lived.

Hearing about how much they love the place, and how well they are doing there left me with an uncharacteristically gladsome attitude for the rest of the day.

Why, I wondered, should that be?

I lived in that house for about 17 years, but what happens to it now has nothing to do with me.

Naturally, it is good to see this young couple living their dream, but why should this affect me more than any other young couple in similar circumstances?

I concluded that we must form some sort of connection to the places where we have lived and spent our time.

Seeing their brand new bambino, and knowing that the old house will continue to ring with laughter and life gave me a deep sense of satisfaction.

Places can become part of the fabric of our lives.

Seeing these young people just starting out took me back to the day many years ago when I first drove into the driveway and became awakened to the possibilities of that space.

The warm orange bricks, the stained glass windows, and the decorative gingerbread trim gave the old house a sense of magic. I could see through the film of years to the glory the old house had known over the past century.

We watched the place come alive when we removed the ugly carpet and tile and restored the wood floors to a warm glow.

A coat of fresh paint on the interior walls was like turning on a light, and the hours we spent working on those jobs made us a part of the structure.

Not all places affect us the same way.

I have lived in apartments that I barely remember, and which had no significance for me at all.

Houses, especially those on which we have worked, can get in under our skin.

If we do a home remodeling project, or upgrade wiring or plumbing, we develop a bond with a place, like restoring an old friend back to health, and we leave a bit of ourselves behind.

Places where we have gone through significant life chances also become special.

The quirky old duplex in Duluth where I spent my childhood is still vivid in my memory.

Even today, I recall the sound and smell of the house my aunt and uncle owned in Bloomington. We spent many holidays there over the years, and I even lived there for a brief period during my college days.

They sold that house more than 20 years ago, but the memories of dark winter nights in the glow of the cozy family room, and hot summer nights in the enormous backyard are still crystal clear in my memory.

How many of us have driven by former homes just to see what they look like?

It seems an odd thing to do, but many people do it.

Perhaps it is because, however illogical it may be, we still feel a connection to the place, and want to be assured that it is in good hands.

Talking to the young people who bought the farm, I was delighted to learn that the old place is in the hands of people who care, who will continue to look after it the way it deserves to be looked after.

Places other than houses can become part of the fabric of our lives, as well.

The first time I returned to my hometown after the magnificent timber railroad trestle in West Duluth had been removed, I felt like part of my youth had been erased.

Not only had it been part of the landscape for decades before I was born, it provided a rite of passage for many young people. Walking the trestle – an impressive span that ran down the hill high above residential neighborhoods – required nerves of steel (some might say a touch of stupidity).

If one got caught by a passing train in mid trestle, there were only a few tiny platforms that provided precarious perches to hang onto while the massive engines thundered by, just inches away.

Other places that were part of the landscape during my younger days have disappeared as well, and it seems like more are gone with each passing year.

Unlike our counterparts in Europe, we Americans seem bent on leveling and paving over old structures as quickly as we can, rather than trying to preserve them.

Perhaps that is another reason why some of us are so happy to see a house or a structure preserved, especially those that have meant something to us personally, and to which we have formed an emotional attachment.

Maybe seeing old structures demolished reminds us of our own mortality, and how fleeting our mark here on Earth will be. We leave a few tracks in the dust, and these will soon be swept away by the winds of time.

People who care about old buildings and landmarks give us hope that, at least for a little while, part of our past will be preserved. That can give us a warm, comfortable feeling, like a beaker of shiraz in front of the fire on a crisp autumn evening.

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