Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To travel back

"As an adult, I have often known that peculiar legacy time brings to the traveler: the longing to seek out a place a second time, to find deliberately what we stumbled on once before, to recapture the feeling of discovery. Sometimes we search out again even a place that was not remarkable in itself - we look for it simply because we remember it. If we do find it, of course, everything is different.
The rough-hewn door is still there, but it's much smaller; the day is cloudy instead of brilliant; it's spring instead of autumn; we're alone instead of with three friends. Or, worse, with three friends instead of alone. The very young traveler knows little of this phenomenon..."

From 'The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova

I have felt this way for a long time and I enjoy it, to recover the feelings connected to a place in my life's past, which has some meaning.
Location is the glue, that holds my memories together and especially as a traveler who has seen almost too many destinations.
I've had to uproot myself many times, from many places and I need to go back: it brings me closer to myself.
Even when I travel to unknown places I seek out the history, so as to connect with the location on a deeper level, peoples places, homesteads, stories of the region, the changing landscapes.
I need to feel connected, I need to feel that small moment of homecoming, of familiarity and the thrill of recognition.
I love to come back and find things almost unchanged. Or at least parts of it.
As a mother I so long to share it and sometimes I am sad and I often feel, that things that move me deeply make hardly an impression on my young children.
I have been thinking about it a lot of times. I need to be patient, maybe it is too early to share. Especially my American born children live absolutely in the now. The older boys reflect already more on places of the past, but they also had to share to a large degree the moves of their parents, having been uprooted themselves quite often. The younger ones have the benefit of a steady, local childhood. And the interests are so different.
When I was a young girl, I would beg my grandmother for stories from her childhood. They magically opened places of her youth, her marriages and her family to me, by then already things almost entirely lost to the past.
I would lie in bed with her in the dark, she would ask me to caress her arm and she would begin to talk. The darkness of the room swallowed me, allowing me to see into her world.
Sometimes she would softly cry and I felt sad and helpless. I would tell her how much I loved her, she would go on and tell me more. I can see it now as clearly as then. I can still hear her voice.
My younger children have no grandparents to speak often to, visits are usually short and they possibly will never have the chance to ask questions one asks only after having known a person very intimately.
There is a special connection between children and their grandparents, something of the generation gap can be bridged, something we can not do easily with our own parents. (And so it goes into the next round and I might just have to wait for my own grandchildren or for a little later...)

My parents were somewhat impatient towards their parents stories, had a certain feeling of embarrassment, the 'eye rolling - not this story again' kind of mode, but we children loved to hear them. But possibly they were worn by their daily fights to make a living in East Germany, they had other worries and could not bring themselves to dream back.

I am so much more aware of this now, that I am older. Now I am trying to connect and try to hear what my parents have to tell. And I want to visit often, to come back to a place I left far behind long ago.

Traveling begins through stories...I often visit these places in my mind, visit again and again.
Among them are places I have actually never been to.

Picture by V.Zlotkowski


  1. As a matter of fact - just today - we were speaking of telling stories, and listening to our elders passing on inspirations. My mother sent a book to my daughter filled with all sorts of fun things from her life!
    Look forward to meeting you when the time is right and the kids are back in the routine of school.

  2. Love to do this, I have been thinking about it too!
    Enjoy your summer weeks...

    PS: Such a nice idea to send a memory book to your daughter, I am sure you love it as much!

  3. oh, I just adored your story! my grandmother never spoke any english so i could never talk to her! you are so lucky. enjoyed all your vacation pix - it looks wonderful.

  4. That is so charming and true. I was "uprooted" often but also had the benefit of parents who love holidays in new lands.

    Depending on the age of the younger kids, patience. Focus is something that can come in a few years or perhaps, sitting them down and asking them what their impressions were, rather than trying to impress upon them. I think a dialogue is the most important step. Your grandmother sounded lovely and when I get to see mine, I too share the closeness with her that you describe.


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