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Prompted By Reconnecting

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Home Sweet (Old) Home

Late last month Suzy posted a message on our class listserv regarding a Mad magazine story she had written for Retrospect.  I read the story – which was terrific, of course – and messaged her that I thought, by that story, that she might have brought me back to Retrospect.  That exchange was the bookend to an exchange some months ago.  Suzy had written wondering why I had been absent from Retrospect for many weeks, and I responded that I had found myself more than a bit uncomfortable about looking back so frequently; I was more interested in looking, and moving, forward.  Well things have changed and the time has come to return. Especially in “Reconnecting” week.

(T)he point of these reminiscences isn’t a specific memory, it’s about the conversations that ensue about those memories.

Certainly, the tenor of this week’s prompt envisions another species of reconnecting, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.  Because I’ve discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, something quite important.

Recently my sister Barbara sent an e-mail to my sister Suzie and me embedding a link to a real estate listing for our old childhood home, which she had just discovered while engaged in some other internet activity.  There it was.  Looking far better than it did when we left in 1971 (although it was pretty darn good-looking then) and way better than how it looked in 1953 when we moved in.  The three of us, and our families, had revisited the house in 1988 when we were back in our hometown for a wedding.  The then-owners, who were indeed the purchasers when our parents sold the place, were more than happy to take us through to show the various changes they had made to accommodate their larger family.  Clearly a subsequent owner or owners had taken it to a whole ‘nother level.  But that’s not my point.

My sister Suzie and I started an exchange of memory messages – things we recalled about the house and our experiences there.  Suzie and I are particularly close: she is exactly 363 days older.  When I was young I could never understand how it could be that my birthday preceded hers but she was older.  Sister Barbara often said to others that it was as if Suzie and I had our own language.  Not literally, of course, but there was a wavelength between us that was the broadest of broadbands.

Yeah. Sorta like this

And this

And this . . .








Our exchanges about the house roamed far and wide – physical surroundings and experiences, especially experiences, abounding.  She reminded me about her stock phrase when she talked to close friends about her/our growing up: “when I was 6 and he was 5”, etc. etc.  because so many of our memories involve one another. As our exchanges ran their course it dawned on me: the point of these reminiscences isn’t a specific memory, it’s about the conversations that ensue about those memories, much as the comment conversations that append Retrospect stories.  Well, perhaps this is a “well, duh” moment for many, most or perhaps all of the rest of you, but to me it feels like new learning, although given unreliability of memory for our cohort more likely this is just recently refreshed old learning.  But in any event, it’s back for sure.  As am I.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Welcome back, Tom…you’ve been sorely missed! I’m so glad you shared your reason for having been absent. I, for one, don’t want to be one of those people who is stuck in the past, always talking about the good old days, but I like to think by looking both back and forward, and sharing our thoughts about it all here, we’re stretching the breadth of our experience. The comments have a way of bringing the stories into the present and affecting how we think about and deal with the future. Especially during this time of Covid, I savor every scrap of meaningful connection, and reconnection. Perfect story…I’m glad you stuck to it!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Welcome back, Tom! I have missed your wonderful stories. This one was especially meaningful to me. We recently moved from our home of 45 years to a condo. Because of the pandemic, our kids were unable to say goodbye. The new owners seem very nice, but they have totally gutted the house (which we loved the way it was). I’m wondering how it will feel for us and our kids if they are willing to allow us a tour when they are finished with their work. Or should we all just let our memories suffice?

    • Thanks, Laurie. My two cents? Go for it. Reconnecting with both the house and new owners may well prove worthwhile. The Kilmers, who bought our house, were wonderful people. Mrs. Kilmer, many years later, came to and spoke at my Dad’s memorial service.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Welcome back, Tom! You were missed. And so glad that you and your sisters reconnected with your old home (that can be a great way to reminisce). I find that writing these stories can be therapeutic, fun, or just a great way to go through my old photo albums and share old stories with loved ones. Or at times, vent about the state of current affairs, depending on the prompt. So go with the flow (as we used to say) and see what comes up.

  4. Suzy says:

    Tom, I’m so happy that you decided to reconnect with Retrospect. And flattered that it was my Mad Magazine story that prompted you to return. As Barb so eloquently said in her comment, we are not stuck in the past, but by looking back and sharing forward we are adding to our own (and each other’s) life experience. Plus, I always think that my kids may be interested in reading my stories some day, even if they aren’t right now.

    Loved this story about your old house, and your sisters (especially because in my family we are also Suzy and Barbara, but we have Judy instead of Tom). Welcome back!

  5. Marian says:

    Great to have you back, Tom, and we all seem to be striving for balance between our memories and our futures. Love the photo of your house, by the way. Sometimes in my “thinking back” stories I envision I am telling them to my niece to reveal what life was like in a particular circumstance, which gives them context. Our prompts help me recall events and feelings that might have become fuzzy over time. Look forward to reading more stories from you.

    • Thanks, Marian. Yes, having photos can be a wonderful touchstone. Because we all live and lived somewhere we have a common experience of home. For me it’s especially meaningful given that a family home for generations of my family back in the early to mid seventeenth century still stands and I’ve stood before it. It gives me something of an almost tangible memory of those early generations.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    Your comment about worrying about looking backwards too much interests me. I have long suffered from what I call “pathological nostalgia.” I’ve always had a too-strong tendency to ruminate on past mistakes and reverses, and regret my losses. This despite the fact that, by any logical calculus, “these are [my] good old days.” I cannot think of many measures by which my life at this moment isn’t the best it has ever been, but I STILL catch myself looking wistfully in that damned rear-view mirror.

    • Thanks, Dave. I think your observations are spot on. As I was composing the piece I was thinking about the Roman God Janus; facing forward and back, the god of endings and beginnings. I think we’re privileged to recall the past and relish the present.

  7. Bravo Tom, and welcome back!
    And yes I too find at our age and stage of the game our memories sometimes need refreshing.
    You’re so lucky to have two siblings to help you!

  8. John Shutkin says:

    So glad you’re back Tom, and kudos to Suzy for getting you back. Of course, you are still a great presence on our class listserv, so it is not as though you’ve really been away for some of us.

    And, by the way, terrific story. As others have noted, you have taken this week’s prompt and cleverly applied it not so much to a person but to a place — your old house — as it sounds as if you and sister Suzie were never unconnected. Equally clever is your title. (Praise from other ounsters is praise indeed.) Though it must be said that just the pictures of those adorable puppies was enough to sell me on your story.

    • Thanks, John. Yes, Suzie and I have never been unconnected; the connection and recall manifests itself in ways that only the two of us can appreciate, methinks. Case in point: back in the ’50’s Suzie had a parakeet. For some reason we both remember the bird’s birthdate – February 3rd – and we note it each year. Birds of a feather. And yes, the pups. Brother and sister Maremma Sheepdogs, Ciolo (left in the first two pictures and on top in the third) and Lola. The picture dates from 2007 so they’re long gone now, but I’ve always thought they were like sister Suzie and me.

  9. Tom,. I never knew you were gone! So I feel a bit marginalized by the foregoing discussion. But delighted to see you here and to cogitate on this interesting contribution. I like the way you found a physical location with which to “reconnect,”, as Shutkin noticed. And from the physical location you jumped to what was more central: a description of the interplay between you and a sibling. As it happens, my own story this week also focused in part on the dynamics involving me and a sibling.
    See you around the old Retro-cafe, once the barristas are all vaccinated.

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