For me, the concept of the present is inextricably linked with the past. I fancy myself a goal-oriented person, always thinking about where I’m going, but I certainly wouldn’t say I’m wrapped up in the future. I’m definitely plagued by a sense of nostalgia. Old buildings, vintage clothes and outdated books are my treasures. And when I think of the past, my mind immediately scans the antecedent decades and fixates on the early 20th Century. Art Nouveau, the early Model-T, the Roaring Twenties – there’s something about this time period that reaches out, grabs me and pulls me in.

I ask myself why, and I know this time period is equally scarred by the First World War, the Spanish Flu and a slew of social injustices, but I can’t help falling in love with the art, the fashion and the sense of excitement associated with this time. I will focus on the early 1900s quite a bit in this blog, simply because I have an affinity with it, but the idea of the past (an illusion, I know) encompasses many time periods that I look forward to exploring.

To kick off this blog properly, though, I’d like to look at this tree:

Banyan tree

Banyan Tree, Lahaina, Maui

This is one of the US’ largest banyan trees. I snapped this photo when I was on Maui, and its roots amazed me. The tree was planted in 1873 and has since been growing at an amazing pace. Look closely at the tree – those curved branches and spindly roots were just the type that inspired the likes of Gaudi and Horta to build such incredible structures like the Sagrada Familia in Spain and what is now the Horta Museum in Belgium, with its spindly staircases.

And it is precisely the image of roots that gets me thinking about the past. We’re all tethered to our ancestors by roots that, depending on how well our parents and grandparents have kept up on family business, are sometimes visible and sometimes obscured. In the case of my family, our roots are all over the map. I was born in the middle of the US, in a state called Nebraska, to a mother from Boston and a father from California by way of Missouri. A wonderful novelist from my home state, Willa Cather used to write about how moving away from one’s home and transplanting one’s self creates a disconnection, causing you to become a divided person: half in one place, half in another. Having lived in three different countries during the last five years, I can vouch for Ms. Cather. I’ve become so divided that I almost wrote “goal-oriented” (American) earlier in this blog as “goal-orientated” (British) since I’ve been living in England for the last three years.

My visit to Maudlin Street, Kilkenny, where my great-grandmother was born in the 1880s.

My visit to Maudlin Street, Kilkenny, where my great-grandmother was born in the 1880s.

But then again, my roots lead back to this side of the pond, and I recently traveled to Ireland to reclaim them. My great-grandmother, I learned from my aunt in Boston, grew up in Kilkenny, which is about 1.5 hours south-west of Dublin by car. Armed with her date of birth and the street on which she lived, my husband and I went on a wild goose chase around the town to find more information. The Catholic Church, an establishment I never thought I would again visit after my deliberate departure at the age of fifteen, provided the most insight into her history. I learned about baptism dates and sibling names. More than any information I gleaned, though, simply standing there on Maudlin Street, knowing that part of who I am today was running up and down that street in the late-1800s, gave me an emotional response. It wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t happiness – it was a feeling of emptiness and completeness at the same time. Sort of like that feeling you get when you’re just about to move out of an apartment you’ve lived in for five years and take one last look at that place, remembering all the good times you’ve had there, but also noting how empty it feels without all your stuff.

I guess that’s how I feel about the past. I love it, I cherish it, but sometimes it makes me sad to know it’s no longer here.

Join me each week as I explore new (old) treasures and topics from the past.

One Response to “Roots”
  1. Ron Ellis says:

    I adore your newest writing venture…Love, Marm OXOX

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