In Celebration of Nostalgia

There are things in life that just feel right – places and feelings and ideas that fit as snugly together as a key in a lock… Like drinking hot tea just as the sun peaks out over St. Mary's Bay or reading a good book as the rain taps gently on the window or rifling through memory as Fall settles onto the landscape. The resulting harmony is nothing less than sacred.

I have been revelling in Fall's arrival this year, indulging myself in sentimentality, spending days rummaging in the safety deposit box of my mind where the jewels of my most precious memories are carefully tucked away. I have been thinking of Nanny and Poppy and their warmth and love, of my childhood Branch, of Mrs. Gloria passing bounteous Sears packages across the counter at the post office, of Kimmy and Petrina and Mary and Rusty, the neighbourly setter. I have been drawn towards frivolous memories of banana clips and KooKoo bars and Twisted Sister. During these fresh days of early Fall, I have even been re-reading all of my Rosamunde Pilcher books. The past is coming home to me.

I am full of nostalgia this weather. It seems to be sweeping over me like a wave, a sense of melancholy so strong that it feels like I am being pulled towards it magnetically.

I am an old, worn tweed coat, tinged with character and stains and stories, hanging loosely between reams of structured, contemporary, pastel jackets at Lululemon. While they are adorned with efficient zippers and emblazoned with sparkly seams, I am decorated with large, gold, mismatched buttons.

But I’m not surprised by this wave of nostalgia. Fall loves to reminisce. She revels in memory and yet, edges us towards renewal with her fresh breezes and evening star as she paves the way for our other close friend, Winter.

Fall is like that.

She is your next-door neighbour who recently moved to Branch from downtown Toronto. She wears heavy velvet robes of mustard yellow and deep burgundy all day as she dances around her book-laden house reciting centuries old romantic poetry. For fun, she reads dusty old books and drinks brandy from a tiny crystal glass that she bought at a yard sale in 1984. She spends much of her time prancing down memory lane, reminding you of the importance of reflection and reconciliation, when all you want to do is talk about how your hair looks looks better without the humidity of summer. In the evening, the sounds of CBC radio's "Ideas" fills the dusky living room. When you ask her how she is doing, she looks out the window dreamily and recounts a chance encounter with a friend. She loves to think and dream and remember and she smells like Chanel number five mixed with that fresh smell of clothes just taken in off the line. That’s Fall.

And I’m glad she’s here. The loss of Albert in August has sent me into a tailspin of memory and emotion. He held the largest share of our memory bank. As the oldest of us, he knew the most of Nanny and Poppy, of Branch, of the rest of us. He was here first.

Thankfully, he shared some of that repository of the past with all of us. He also shared the letters that Nanny had sent to him while he was in the military almost 50 years ago. The letters, skillfully packed into a neat bundle of envelopes trimmed with red and blue, represented a Branch time capsule of sorts. Each tidily handwritten page was sprinkled with the people and places of home. There were snippets of everyday life – who had moved away, what the weather was like, who had managed to find a job, who had broken out a window causing the Mounties to cruise out over the Shore! Then, there were the bigger moments – who was getting married or courting, who had left this world and miraculously, who had been restored to health. Reading these letters felt like pulling back a curtain, revealing another era and being given a private tour, through the eyes of a lonesome mother, of a Branch and indeed a world I have never known.

And don’t we all need to slip back into memory, into the past, now and then in this fast paced, ever-changing world, where trends casually come and go. Change is beautiful when it improves us, when it makes us better, kinder human beings on a better, kinder planet. And remembering in a way that adds to that betterment of humanity and the human condition is a good practice for us all.

And that’s where the nostalgia fits. It’s not borne of a desire to live in the past. Not at all. Instead it’s borne of a commitment to not forget what has been, to learn from what has been.

So as Fall continues to form around us, let us all purposely honour her by honouring our own memories and understanding how they serve us. I hope we understand the beauty and significance of memory as well as the poet Don McKay ....

"I think each memory is lit by its own small moon – a snowberry, a mothball, a dime, which regulates its tides and longings. "

Yesterday evening, the whole of Branch was encompassed in a thick blanket of wet fog. I made a dart over home, to visit with Annmarie and Leonard. As I walked down the yard, as I have thousands of times in my life, I stopped to soak in all that surrounded me. Golden light spilled out of Uncle Whatty's windows, reflecting on the dewy grass. The boats, tied up at the wharf, bobbed gently in the wind, scraping the wharf every now and then, snuggly settled in for the Winter. A couple of cars had stopped down by the plant, their headlights piercing the fog, their inhabitants hungry for a chat. In that moment, I felt the goodness of the present, the past and the future all around me. The old tweed coat felt like it was where it was meant to be.

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