Disappearing Places
December 10, 2008 2:45 PM   Subscribe

"I remember having rootbeer floats on the porch swing on hot summer nights... I remember playing with my cousins and the neighbors in the side yard. I remember running to the train tracks just a few blocks away and counting the train cars (sometimes over 100!) as they streamed by. I remember 'Uncle' Bill showing me his missing finger that he lost while working the trains... This is someone else’s house now but my memories still live there." From Disappearing Places: An archive and collective map of places that no longer exist, at least not as they once did. posted by katillathehun (23 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The problem with nostalgia is it works best when it's not really true.

Or at least, when the sepia tone and fuzzy focus obscure those things we'd prefer not to remember: about the "good old days": the institutionalized sexism and casual racism and smug piety and proud ignorance.
posted by orthogonality at 2:56 PM on December 10, 2008

I remember C-Beams glittering in the dark by the Tannhauser Gate.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:05 PM on December 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

From the That's My Old House site: it was nice but you can make that house look better. and there was ghosts we see in there. i went to see the people use to live there or anybody die in it.

Yeah, okay. Anyway.... there used to be a diner on Bluemound Road in Brookfield, Wisconsin that looked like a "Happy Days" set. The site is probably now home to one of those Yankee Candle stores that spread like cancer.
posted by desjardins at 3:07 PM on December 10, 2008

13 years after I graduated, I showed my future wife my high school. Not only had it been remodeled to the point of unrecognizability, the school nurse I fondly remembered - in whose office I'd hung out for the better part of three years - clearly had no idea who I was.

A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I remember purple-hued summer midnights, the air alive with whispering gnats, drunk on my bourbon sweat, which drifted upwards like a fever. My neck limp, cheek resting against my bare shoulder, thick drool bridging my teeth, empty bottle held like a flower by paralysed fingers. Genitals slumbering like that good old dog of mine, Rex or whatever its name was, I dunno. Sometimes an owl would hoot, or some kind of cuckoo or something, and sometimes I’d hear it in my dream, and it would become a part of that dream, everything building up to that fucking bird screaming out like a molested child. I’d sometimes start awake and reflexively take a swig from the bottle, earning only a mouthful of dead fruit flies and stale cigarette ash. Spot or Jack or whatever would raise his grey muzzle, cataract’d eyes gleaming dully in the moonlight, and it was then that I realised he hated me.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:25 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again.

OMG that's totally how I feel about reading David Foster Wallace!
posted by dersins at 3:27 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Those were the days, when you could show people your missing finger.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:49 PM on December 10, 2008

... the world was so big, and I was so small...

(there's your soundtrack)
posted by grounded at 4:16 PM on December 10, 2008

For where those places went: James Howard Kunstler.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You really don't want to know what "Uncle" Bill showed me.

Hint: it wasn't his finger.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I remember crab apple and pear fights using a water filed burned out shell of a farmhouse as a castle in the field near my house. It's a Home Depot now.

I remember bmxing and getting radical air and doing wild kickouts coming out a gully in an empty field by the edge of a forest. It's a subdivision now.

I remember crayfish and minnow catching in the meandering creek that ran through the forest next the catholic school. It's now an efficient storm drain with stones in wire mesh for a bank.

I remember going with the gang to sneaking through the fields up to the back of the drive in theater and watching movies from just off their property and trying to get the sound with crappy plastic radios and carrying pocket knives for protection from you know....bad guys. It's an industrial park, subdivision and garden center now.

I remember when there were not even lawns in my neighbourhood for us to get off of.
posted by srboisvert at 4:25 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

The house I lived in from birth to age ten was bulldozed in 1994(?) to expand a highway. Might try to find a pic and post it one of these days.

Though I will not write romantic paragraphs about what I remember there. Of note, there was an agave out back that got increasingly enormous and bizarre. Why did people ever plant those?
posted by salvia at 4:39 PM on December 10, 2008

Andrew Largeman: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew Largeman: You'll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it's just gone. And you can never get it back. It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:51 PM on December 10, 2008

I can't get used to this lifestyle.
posted by maxwelton at 4:53 PM on December 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

My grandparents had a dilapidated, half-charred house for a neighbor for as long as I can remember. Sometimes my younger cousin and I would stand at the chain link fence and just stare at it. I remember it was all black inside, and there were raggedy old curtains billowing from the broken windows, and there was a torn, upholstered rocking chair sitting all alone.

I used to tell my cousin that the old woman who'd once lived there had died in a fire. Well, there HAD been a fire, and she HAD died, but the two incidents weren't at all related. Not important when you're terrifying your cousin. So, I'd tell him she still haunted the house. My cousin would act all tough. "Bull," he'd say. "You're makin' that up." But then the wind would blow through the house, and the chair would rock just a little bit... Oh yeah. Good times. Anyway, my grandparents bought the lot recently and bulldozed the house. I know it was for the best, but empty spot there makes me sad.
posted by katillathehun at 4:54 PM on December 10, 2008

R. Crumb's cartoon about disappearing places: A Short History of America
posted by Xurando at 5:22 PM on December 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I grew up in Germany, and everything I knew has changed. Did you ever drive onto Rhein-Main Airbase there? I passed through there again in 2000, and took a walk from the hangar I was in to where the main gate used to be.
There used to be a big white-painted metal arch that stood at the gate that read "Gateway to Europe".
I found the spot where it stood, which is now at the bottom of an abandoned autobahn exit ramp, with weeds growing up through the pavement. It felt odd when I finally realized I was standing where I had stood so many times in my childhood, and couldn't recognize it.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:56 PM on December 10, 2008

Joe South -- Don't It Make You Want To Go Home:

There's a six-lane highway down by the creek
Where I went skinny-dippin' as a child
And a drive-in show where the meadow used to grow
And the strawberries used to grow wild

There's a drag strip down by the riverside
Where my grandma's cow used to graze
Now the grass don't grow and the river don't flow
Like it did in my childhood days

Don't it make you want to go home, now?
Don't it make you want to go home?
All God's children get weary when they roam
Don't it make you want to go home?
Don't it make you want to go home?
posted by Herodios at 6:50 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

All my life, I've had recurring dreams about places I've been, but different. Mashed together, in a way. One of the places I dream about, and remember, most often, is a blurry combination of several parks (Milham, Crane) in Kalamazoo, a dirt bike track in the woods we called Sandy.... Sandy something, and an amalgam of two summer camps, Camp Wise near Cleveland, and Habonim Dror near Three Rivers. I used to have incredibly vivid dreams, and can still tell you that, in dreams, the bicycle track was located in a field (really, an open field, but strangely once you got there, there were all the trees again, seemingly out of no where) directly to the left of the main house at Habonim.

These dreams and this amalgam, they are so vivid to me, they feel almost like home. Then, maybe ten years ago, on a visit home, I found out the woods where the bicycle track had been had been converted into houses, and another part of my childhood had died. Which was a little depressing.

What really got to me was, the next time I dreamt of that mix of places, the field was gone, the bike track was gone, and it was filled with subdivisions. I woke up hurt and angry, and I believe I said rather loudly (scaring my girlfriend) "They've sold my dream."
posted by Ghidorah at 7:38 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

As an addendum, Jorges Luis Borges had a poem, Limits, with two versions, one longer, one shorter. The shorter one has more of a visceral punch to it. I've found a version of it, but it's different than the translation I remember:

There is a line in Verlaine I shall not recall again,
There is a street close by forbidden to my feet,
There’s a mirror that’s seen me for the very last time,
There is a door that I have locked till the end of the world.
Among the books in my library (I have them before me)
There are some that I shall never open now.
This summer I complete my fiftieth year;
Death is gnawing at me ceaselessly.

The translation I remember had, as it's last line, "Death reduces me incessantly." I always loved that line, and feel, well, there's something more to it than this translation.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:44 PM on December 10, 2008

I remember, when my dad was sick with cancer and I was nine, we had this teenage girl assigned to us by Hospice who came and took me and my sister out to do fun things. One of the places she took us was the A&W Drive-In. Root-beer floats were already one of my favorite things, but it was the first time I had ever been there, or to a drive-in at all, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was flooded this summer, and it may or may not ever be coming back.
posted by epj at 8:36 PM on December 10, 2008

I was able to go into the house I grew up in (back in the 70's) about three or four years ago.

It was comforting to see the green flocked wallpaper in the attic was still there.

It was bizarre to see my son running down the same hallway I ran down when I was his age.
posted by Lucinda at 9:00 PM on December 10, 2008

Near the house where I grew up, there are twin rows of black walnut trees. Google Earth reveals those trees are still standing, and I take great comfort in that fact. The last time I drove by there, I was startled how huge a pair of spruce had grown, on a neighbor's lawn.

By my parent's cabin, there was a meadow. When last I visited, the meadow was not longer a meadow. The small trees had all grown up, choking the openness that had existed. The vacant property along the lake, next to my parents, had been cleaned up. My parents thought that an improvement. I was devastated that the wildness had been tamed.

Nothing remains the same, and home is no longer homey. I doubt I'll ever return. But then I moved to Germany. It was very disconcerting to find the environs seemed more like home, when I was young, than home itself.
posted by Goofyy at 12:38 AM on December 11, 2008

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