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Childhood revisited

By Karen Stiller

When I was a teenager, I danced the hustle and went down to Funkytown in front of my parents’ mirrored living room wall. I don’t remember the day my mother stuck the 12-by-12-inch tiles with the gold accents on the wall, but I remember the effect: glamour had arrived in Dartmouth, N.S., and we were a part of it.

Imagine my surprise, while shuffling through Graceland last summer in a long line of eager tourists, to discover the exact same mirrored tiles in Elvis’s living room. Other touches reminded me of my home, long gone, and my youth, dearly departed: the colour forest green, a carpet you must rake and eyeglasses the size of dessert plates.

Time travel through Graceland may have been a highlight of our summer road trip, but our first stop was Schuyler, Neb., my husband’s birthplace.

Lo, it was not all he dreamt it would be. The remains of a landmark building smouldered depressingly on the main street from a fire earlier that week. Businesses were closed. Windows were boarded. It was Recessionville, U.S.A.

We had planned to stay two nights so Brent could reminisce about the first months of his life. Within minutes of driving through town, I presented my case for one night only. My timing was off — I should have given the man on a birthplace pilgrimage at least five minutes before begging to leave. He forgave me, and we went to Pizza Hut, the best eating option for miles.

By the time we had pulled out of Schuyler the next afternoon, we had driven through the town dozens of times searching for the hospital where Brent was born and the house he had lived in. They remained mysteriously elusive. No one could confirm where those old buildings had stood. But we spent the morning at the tiny library sifting through clippings from the Schuyler Sun and learned that this town had indeed seen better days.

My husband gradually grew content. A little loose piece of him clicked into place — and in only one night! He knew he would most likely never be back, and that was okay with both of us, even if it was sad, too.

Going home is always a bit like that. Funky tiles no longer hang on the living room wall in Dartmouth. My childhood home is now sleek and modern and recently inhabited by people with good taste. It came on the market last spring, and my sister toured it, camera in hand. The red shag rug that covered the basement floor is gone. Our orange dining room with the striped wallpaper lives on only in our memory, where it belongs, quite frankly.

Whenever I am back in Nova Scotia, sentimental to the extreme, I make a point of driving by bus stops I used to stand at, the Chinese restaurant where I ate the pu-pu platter wearing a wrist corsage for my Grade 9 grad, and Woodlawn United, where I swear I can still smell the never-ending supply of soft green homemade playdough.

And of course, I drive by 25 Windward Ave. It is smaller than I remember. My kids can hardly believe I survived such containment. And the tiny tree that grew up alongside me on the front lawn is now a towering, leafy mass, almost eclipsing the home where I cried, laughed, worked on my somersaults and sang along to Leo Sayer more than any human ever should. It makes me smile and it makes me sad just to think of it.

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