Nostalgia: pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past.

Where is your most nostalgic place?

For me, it would definitely be my childhood home. Because before it was my home, it was my dad’s… and his brothers’… and my grandparents’.

My first memory on RR 66 includes a hazy, toddler-height view of my grandfather, who passed away when I was two. Like the depiction of many an adult in a children’s tale, I see him only from the waist down (Muppet Babies, anyone?), unintelligible mutterings hovering over my head. He’s smoking at the kitchen table, which has Easter eggs on it. That’s it. It’s not much, and it may not even be accurate, but it’s the only memory I have…. of him, at least.

Of the house, I have many, many more. All smelling of pine. Particularly the closets. And they still do.

In the following years, I recall wondrous trips out to the country to spend time with my Grandma Meana. I can picture the counters covered with her homemade noodles and the neon seafoam of her bedroom. I see the adults playing cards, and the cousins scampering on the ivory and gray flourished carpet, littered with wrapping paper on Christmas day.

There’s the afghans, the vinyl dining room chairs, and the craft room filled with accordion-armed clown dolls (which I carefully avoided). And of course, there was my reverence for every magnificent detail of the village of ivory, taupe, and gold nativity figures that Grandma hand painted.

Grandma Meana passed the winter of my second grade of school. A year later, my parents decided we would move to her home.

I felt nervous about entering that house again, my unease further amplified by the oddity of camping out in the formal living room while we waited for our furniture to arrive. Curled up in a sleeping bag on that same ivory and gray flourished carpet, I was haunted by memories the past. Was she still here? Could she see me? Would I see her?

I remember bracing myself for each open of the closet or the basement door, overcome by the smell of her and her home—not mine.

My parents worked hard on that house, and eventually it became our home, with a pleasant shadow of recollection underneath. Superimposed on top were birthday treasure hunts, slumber parties spent watching Wrestle Mania, Christmas hour gifts, and even the birth of my second sister.

In high school, to be quite frank, it felt like a prison. In a time before cell phones or the Internet (remember waaaay back then?), expensive long-distance chats were off limits. I was trapped a half hour away from what felt like the world. Most of my memories of the house during those year are bittersweet: beautiful misconceptions, dead-end racing, acute longing, philosophical goodbyes.

When I graduated, I excitedly left rural isolation for the urban buzz of Chicago. During and after college, I began to appreciate the house and its surrounding landscape more, perhaps in the knowledge that I would no longer live there. If that sounds harsh, I don’t mean it to be. One can love something and yet know it’s not a good fit.

Sue and Shirley once visited that home, too, for my wedding shower. They were so comfortable there, especially Grandma Shirley. It was a house of her time, and it felt like she belonged there. I can picture her chatting with my dad on the deck, a symphony of frogs and crickets blanketing out their long, private conversation. It made me realize, “I bet he misses having this with his own mother, who would’ve been Shirley’s age.”

Great GranddaughtersAnd now that I’ve had my own daughter, I see the house through a brand new, and quite stunning, patina.

My nostalgia comes full circle as I watch Szaba enjoying time with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I can see a tiny ghost of myself enjoying those times with the relatives I remember from a handful of memories far far away. It’s really quite something. I realize now how fortunate Szaba and I are to have this rare connection through this house.

The little stone ranch house on 66 may not always be in our family, but it will forever be an integral part of it. From the lime stone bricks hand-chipped by my dad and his brothers… to the surrounding corn fields where my cousins and I got lost in our imaginations… that house is (for me) the most nostalgic place on earth. And one day, I hope Szaba will remember it and be able to say the same.

What is your most nostalgic place?

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