I went to Building 19 the other night in search of a cheap picture to hang in my hallway since I did some decor reshuffling. Whenever I visit that store, I experience quite a bit of nostalgia. One of the reasons is because I used to go with my grandparents when I was a kid, but it’s also because nothing has changed in that store. Nothing. The location I used to visit was in southern Massachusetts or maybe RI but they are the same. Literally, they probably have all the original fixtures and chairs and recycled carriages from the 1970s. There’s something refreshing about going somewhere that is frozen in time, in a world that changes so fast it’s dizzying.
That might be one of the biggest draws of New England to me, the oldness and steadiness of it. As I browsed the cheap dusty paintings in the store, and walked on the old and somewhat dirty linoleum, I saw a few prints that caught me off guard. They were of typical New England farmhouses and barns in different seasons. One was a weathered white house next to a snowy tree. Another was an antique red barn next to a tractor. The trees were filled with bright fall leaves, and a few had fallen to the ground. I got choked up thinking that once I was in CA, I wouldn’t be likely to see scenes like this in real life anymore. I couldn’t buy the pictures, didn’t want the reminder of what I’d be leaving.
When I got home though, I started thinking about the trip I’d just returned from, the Valentine’s Day visit to California. During my trip there, except for being mesmerized by the scenic views of the mountains and valleys and ocean, it didn’t feel like I was somewhere else. I felt very at home there, not like I was an Eastern imposter.
This was the visit where I crossed over into forgetting I was somewhere else. Over time I have accumulated more stuff at Ryan’s house. The first night I put on my happy bunny flannel PJs pants and t-shirt and fuzzy socks. Just like home. One day we drove up to Santa Barbara. It was breathtaking but in a way looked a lot like New England, like Rockport or Freeport. It even smelled the same: Cotton candy, salt water, and fried fish. The pier was weathered and the seagulls overhead could have been cousins of the ones who hang out at our Building 19. Admittedly the fish and chips were prepared in a healthier breading and the fries weren’t shiny with grease. And the coleslaw didn’t have a mayonnaise base. But the view was the same from my window seat.
After that we went up to see friends who were camping up at Lake Chumash. The campground was up a very windy and high mountain road. When we got to their site, I was greeted with familiar (Simi Valley) faces. And from up there, it felt just like New England. Tall trees, leaves, some pine, water below, dark dirt beneath our feet. It was cool enough by five o’clock that I had to put on my flannel shirt. Not so different after all.
Today I was cleaning out the last jar of my strawberry preserves. The strawberries in stores here now are small and sour and hard. I thought happily of when I’m in CA and can make fresh jam any time I want, not just during the very short harvest season.
Most of the places I’ve lived in have had brick or at least brick front construction. I suppose there’s no getting around that out in earthquake country, but the rest I think I can replicate. Maybe the outside of the house will be stucco with those funny clay roof tiles but the inside of our place can be cozy and filled with New England charm.
And maybe out there I’ll be more tan, and thinner, because I won’t be able to hide in big heavy sweaters and corduroys and South Park parkas for most of the year, but inside I will still be cozy. I’ll still make comfort foods, and will can things, and use flannel sheets, even if we have to turn the AC on really high.
There’s a little New England everywhere you go, and I think it will all work out just fine.