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The Ruins of Nostalgia 52

Donna Stonecipher (2019)

We did not know anyone who had grown up in our neighborhood who could now afford to live in our neighborhood. None of us could afford to rent a house in our neighborhood, much less buy a house or even an apartment in a converted garage in our neighborhood. Over the years, the houses in our neighborhood had kept changing hands. They gained second stories, third stories, picture windows and skylights, hot tubs and balconies, gained terraces and gardens, lost yards, lost rhododendrons, gained sedge and lavender, lost juniper bushes, gained butterfly bushes and chard. We watched as houses in our neighborhood were knocked down and replaced by bigger houses, houses so big there was no room for a garden or a yard, big houses squeezed uneasily into their too-small lots, story stacked on story topped with a flat roof in a neighborhood of small houses with pitched roofs. Pitched roofs to shrug off the rain that had been hushing down since before our neighborhood was built, and that would be hushing down long after our neighborhood had all been knocked down.    *   And yet—in truth—we were not certain we knew exactly what “our neighborhood” meant. Did “our neighborhood” mean our neighbors, or the houses our neighbors had lived in, or the street grid, or some combination of the above? As our neighborhood gained infill, lost empty lots, lost gas guzzlers, gained hatchbacks, gained SUVs, gained cafés, lost taverns, lost movie theaters, lost children playing in the intersections, we had atomized to ever more distant suburbs, suburbs with names mangled from Native American names, or mimicking European names, or invented to evoke elevated and inviting names.    *   Nevertheless, there persisted a delicate web of connection between us and the people who had also grown up in our neighborhood. This web was not a real web, and yet it was a real web. Undoubtedly there was also such a web connecting the people who’d grown up in the suburban neighborhoods we now lived in, which they could no longer afford. (And who were now atomized to ever more distant suburbs.)   *   A few of our parents still lived in the small houses with pitched roofs we had grown up in in our neighborhood. When we visited these houses, and helped our mother beat back the burgeoning butterfly bushes, we felt buried alive in the ruins of nostalgia. They were not real ruins, and yet they were real ruins.

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