We all know the feeling, it is universal, it is the same regardless of race, religion, ethnic origin, date of birth, economic status. It is a beautiful feeling, a quiet one, real tears can come to the eyes as we remember. What do we remember in this way? It is not the sad things, though they also linger, it is not the traumatic, though it has its effect also. It is special in itself and comes upon us often without notice. It makes us feel that things were better in the good old days, that the children of today simply do not know how things were, and are the worse off for it.
Nostalgia gives us a longing for the safety and security of childhood, especially for the earliest time of life when we were so completely dependent. It is a warm feeling, so very comfortable, encompasses the whole being. Familiar smells can bring this on, smells of the old neighborhood, maybe charcoal burning, maybe fresh-baked bread. Sometimes it is an odor we have not experienced for years, but suddenly we are back in time. Our eyes glaze and there we are!
Actual memory usually does not go back much beyond the age of three, but all the residuals are there. We tend to look back on our earlier years as preparatory, which they are, but we are glad to have outgrown them. Now the nostalgia comes over us and we know how basic they really were.
There are special places in our nostalgic memory, and they are real ones. As adults we think that children love best to be noisy and rough, but the places we remember in this way are always the quiet ones, the gentle breezes, the sunlight, the sweet music. We remember the sweet voices of our parents, not the scolding ones. We relive the closeness to our parents, their towering security. Trying to get the best of them is not the uppermost emotion.
The nostalgia of the school-age years is one of freedom, roaming the woods, making a treehouse to exclude the opposite sex, climbing to the top of a cherished hill, stopping a minute to look down. It is the old fishing hole where you got away from everyone and just communed with nature. It is imagining yourself on a magic carpet heading for the stars.
The nostalgia of the teenage years is one of friends and parties, the closeness of your special friend, dressing alike, talking alike, having your special clique of friends. After all, this is the age when you usually make lifelong friendships. You remember school mostly socially, the lovely girls, the handsome boys who courted each other. You will always remember your first love even though you may be very happy he is not the final one. You remember the songs at the football games. You especially have a soft spot for the music, music that you can never forget. Each song brings back a memory.
Then there is the nostalgia for home. Whether it was a shack or a palace it is the same. You think fondly of the kitchen stove, the green sofa, the cookies Mother used to make, the funny neighbor next door. Then there is the view from the window. If there was a mountain it was the loveliest mountain in the world. If it was a flat plain it gave you the chance to see far. If it was a tree-lined street you remember each tree individually.
Then there is the memory of the seasons, jumping into tall piles of yellow leaves in October, picking violets in spring, sloshing through the snow in winter. When you go back to look at these scenes everything seems so small. Then you remember how big you were when it all happened. Children know they are small in comparison with adults, but they feel that their actual size is a good one. .
Nostalgia for the holidays brings tears to the eyes every time. If you have children you will be nearly forced to repeat the rituals of the old days when life was so lovely.
These memories make you feel as if the olden days were better, days when Grandma carried water from the well, when the crackling fire heated the house, although Grandma may have wished for more conveniences. Mother’s cooking was better than anything conjured up nowadays. You do not remember the adults as real people, but rather as forces in your life. You remember neighbors and friends, but your family members show you where you belong, who you are.
People who emigrate experience this to extreme, even though they may never wish to return home. They learn another language well, use it fluently, but the sound of the mother tongue has a special sweetness. As they get older the urge just to see the familiar places becomes quite strong. “Roots” we call it, and surely it is. In our childhood we lay down the roots, we build up the person we are, so it is right and proper to look back and see how we did it.
We did it by taking in the environment, whatever it was, imitating the people, whoever they were. You belonged to your family, whatever it was. Always there is the feeling that you belong to all of nature, especially the areas near home.
In the nostalgia there is no attempt to understand adults, only to use them for finding out how the world operates. You also know that the adults did not understand you, that you were in a world apart. Children ordinarily cannot see their parents as human beings until they are well past the teenage years.
by Marietta Rawson