Sunday, September 25, 2005

You Can't Go Back

I spent the weekend in my home town of Brainerd, in central Minnesota, to attend my nephew’s wedding. It’s always an exercise in nostalgia for me to go home (my former in-laws used to have a little bumper sticker on their fridge: “Nostalgia--it ain’t what it used to be!)--but this time it seemed especially so.

I have three other siblings, two of whom are older than me. My youngest brother was unable to attend the festivities (and was sorely missed), but the rest of us hung out together for a whopping 36 hours. My family has always been on friendly terms, but we were raised to be pretty independent. We have always tended to do our own things and we get together mostly for holidays and such. But as I grow older I find I value them more and more, and I find the bedrock things we have in common with each other to loom larger than they did when we were kids.

This is all garden-variety enough. But I’m feeling old, I guess; indulge me a little.

The drive from Wisconsin to central Minnesota passes thru Minneapolis / St. Paul, where I lived for 20 years. Even after I moved to Wisconsin six or seven years ago, I've continued to think of Minneapolis as home (though I also maintained a presence in Brainerd for most of those 20 years--I guess I’m just predominantly a city person). But lately every time I pass thru Minneapolis (only two or three times per year now) I’m struck by how it has changed. The city I knew is kind of gone now, morphed into something else. And that leads inexorably to the realization that it’s no longer “my town.” 20 years of life here: years playing drums in a band, time driving a cab, selling motorcycles, going to college. I drove a city bus here for 10 years, and I used to be the guy who knew what was going on in the city: buildings going up or coming down; demonstrations or parades, crimes or accidents, new restaurants opening or old favorites closing--it was my city and I felt connected to it. But life has changed, my home is now somewhere else, my friends are different (some of them, anyway), my work has changed. Days, months, years pass; time moves on.

When I see my siblings as rarely as I do now, the additional gray hairs and other detritus of the passage of time are more striking. We are all, inarguably, middle-aged now. The silly conceits and self-delusions made possible by my not having kids are eventually shattered by other people’s kids. Say, by the wedding of a nephew who, though young, is absolutely of an age where he legitimately might be my kid.

This makes you think about stuff. I am sometimes a bit shocked to catch an unexpected glimpse of myself in the mirrored walls of a hotel elevator or reflected in a storefront window as I walk in a strange town. A flash: who is that fat, middle-aged guy? How this process, old as life itself, grinds away at us all, each day passing behind us and changing the balance of what has been versus what is yet to come.

The weekend was not about me. It was a lovely, small wedding, a nod to a tradition thousands of years old, a connection of two young people to a vast human stream flowing down for thousands of years and, probably, thru them onward to points unknown. But even as we gathered there, friends and family, to celebrate this event in the lives of the family’s youngest adults, still the observations and thoughts are carried away from the events and will stay with me, like a little scar which is now a permanent part of the landscape.

The ex-in-laws had another little plaque on the wall: “Old Age Ain’t For Sissies!” Guess I better buck up.


Joshua said...

It is interesting to read that even though you no longer identify witht he place, you still do with the people. I guess I have always linked one with the other. perhaps that is why I have so few enduring friendships, and plenty of forwarding addresses.


wunelle said...

I think this is so because 1) most of my family is still there, and 2) I tend to have a small number of very close friends (rather than a bunch of pals or acquaintances).

I'm feeling rather less glum today. I guess I was just feeling suddenly very mortal. In reality my new life is very, very good, and I'm the last person who should be lamenting anything.

Thanks for reading.