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Lynn Hummel: Is nostalgia only for sentimental fools?

I touched base with Garrison, N.D., my home town, just briefly one day last week, and felt a touch of nostalgia as I drove around with my brother and nephew.

Nostalgia was once considered a mental illness associated with anxiety, insomnia, irregular heartbeat and disordered eating. I don’t think that is what was going on inside me. Many consider nostalgia as a sentimental longing to return to the happiness and pleasure of the “good old days.” That wasn’t my feeling either.

A visit to the cemetery was a crucial stop. There we reconnected with our mom and dad. As we wandered around we also found their friends and our friends. I found a few classmates who won’t make it to the next class reunion. We found relatives, names remembered and names forgotten. Then there were unfamiliar names like the names of three infants with the same name buried side by side. I didn’t know the names or the story, but that stops you in your tracks. Were they triplets who died at birth? There’s no nostalgia there, just reflection on some of the randomness of life. Just imagine the circumstances of that story, the impact and sorrow. We found some victims of war buried there too. A time to pause. Those wars certainly weren’t part of the good old days. Some of the stones have pictures — faces from almost a 100 years ago, faces of brides and grooms, faces of soldiers, faces of young adults, faces of tots. It’s impossible to walk past a face without stopping and pondering.

We drove past the home we grew up in and stopped there. It was a modest two bedroom rambler when we lived there, but cared for with love and fresh paint, with a yard manicured by our dad to perfection. And now — neglected and shabby — a huge disappointment. But why should that be — it’s not ours anymore and time moves on. It’s just that old connections aren’t severed by transfers of real estate titles.

We cruised the neighborhoods, the schools, the churches, the ballparks, the lake, the marinas, the business district, the park, the elevators, across the tracks, the sites where blacksmith shops, gas stations, our dad’s bulk warehouse and friends’ homes once were, but now have given way to progress, new buildings, vacant lots, and occasionally, puzzling changes.

So what is this feeling of nostalgia? I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel particularly happy. I didn’t feel homesick or melancholy. I didn’t return to the good old days and I certainly didn’t experience disordered eating unless two hotdogs with sauerkraut constitute disordered eating.

What I felt was a familiar warmth and the feeling that I had shown respect to my hometown, my family, and my old classmates, and that I had reconnected with my roots. I didn’t grow up in Las Angeles, Chicago, Brooklyn, Paris, London, Vienna, or even Bismarck — I grew up in Garrison. That’s who I am and I’ll never outgrow it.