The nostalgia of place is in full force this weekend. I'm sixteen again, and twenty-two, minus the weight, reading the same comic books and hanging out at the same local pub with the same friend. My family goes up to Sagamore Hill on Saturday morning, stopping at the Jericho Cider Mill on the way up (the same old large-scale print is on the wall behind the counter—a vaguely feral-looking boy with a devlish look, cheek full of apple, slick of juice around his mouth, exposed white flesh in the red globe in his hand—but the old down-home customer service is non-existent), and the house is there as I remember amid its fields and outbuildings.
When I was a kid we had our totemic places at Sagamore Hill—the Pond, the Windmill, the Cannon Into Which You Could Pour Gravel. They're there today (well, not the cannon), as are the memory-worn objets inside the house. Old tired animal carcasses and parts thereof, looking if possible more resigned and bored with the passing time. A rhino's foot, ignominious as an inkwell. A chair made out of horns that I remember being more intricate, or bigger, somehow, when I was young.
But I'd wanted the Lad to come, because this was The Place. It had hooked us, all of us, from Mom on down. First, it was a rich person's house we were allowed into. Second, ANIMALS, as if I need to tell you. Third, presidents were still just barely important then, before their currency became devalued. And it had nice lawns. In returning I expected a certain erosion of awe, but like any good parent I wanted to also relive the wonder of my youth by forcing my kid to experience it.
Somehow, it worked. I guess you get a kid up close to those beech trees, like monuments to trees made from stone and gold, carved with dates that go visibly back to the mid-70s and whose earlier markings have blurred through the tree's slow healing, and something primal takes over. Not that he was reluctant to go, but I didn't want acceptance, I wanted him to acknowledge magic. And watching him clamber through the intricate multiple trunks of that ancient monster I, at least, felt its presence.
We ran around the tree a lot, and in the house we saw tusks and dead bison and beach-ball-sized bear heads openmouthed at the ends of their furred skins. We viewed the Victorian technology of the kitchen and the baths, trod on the old carpets under glass eyes in dim light. And then we ran again, outside, through drifts of leaves covering gem-green grass on broad sweeping lawns.
The night before, we'd taken out the Tapes, the Classic from 1971 ("Billy, stay away from the crib"), plus its sequel from New Year's Day 1976 ("this is Nancy Dickerson reporting.") I'm on there, both a year and a half younger and two years older than this kid. My piercing screams on the earlier recording and my husky trying-to-sound-older voice on the later one are brackets to his current perfection; his new memories of placing feet upon that smooth treebark, of looking up the Cape Buffalo's nose, are both outside and inside of my own memory.
On that later tape, my youngest sister takes on the reporting role of Nancy Dickerson, veteran journalist and interviewer of family members. When she's not doing that ("I think our audience would like to know, do you live in a house or in an apartment?") she's desperately clutching the microphone to herself while whining "I don't want to!" as we exhort her to speak. Well she's in for it now, herself, coming home to tell us that she's expecting. We all have tape recorders.
Speaking of nostalgia both real and imagined, and tape recordings, what better Saturday to such a weekend than attending a taping of A Prairie Home Companion? If there's a nostalgia gland and it hasn't already exploded from the red light filtering into my parents' library through the leaves of the Japanese maple just outside, A Prairie Home Companion ought to finish it off.
I'll let you know.
UPDATE: After the show we went to the old Greek place, said hello to the same waiter, then stopped at her old apartment stoop, where she pulled me in for another first kiss, as it was twelve years ago. Nostalgia satisfied.