On Nostalgia

¡Hola Muchachos y Muñecas!

It’s finally hitting me that this isn’t a vacation and we’ve really moved out of California.  Part of why it’s taking so long is that we’re still living out of suitcases, as the bulk of our belongings are on a boat slowly making their way through the Panama canal and across the Atlantic.  However, this week we finally got our internet set up, and I had the chance to Skype with my twin brother and his kids.  Watching them greet Diego through technology, I realized that would likely be the extent of their relationship for the next few years, and my heart broke a little bit.

I do love Germany, but as I’ve rushed around the last few months working out the logistics of our relocation, I found myself feeling a deep nostalgia for home. I’ve had this uncharacteristic desire to collect cheesy California-Themed fashion and home decor items. Thus far I’ve restrained myself to my “California Knows How To Party” tank top, for which I have no regrets. RIP Tupac. Though I’ve moved many times in my life to various locations up and down this great state, I’ve never moved out of the state. My best point of reference for this experience is when I moved to Santa Barbara for college. At that time, I discovered three unexpected things about leaving home:

(1) You develop feelings somewhat akin to patriotism for your home town/region/state.

Santa Barbara is considered to be in Central California, but one of the most beat-to-death conversation topics in the freshman dorms was the rivalry between Northern and Southern California.   Our dorm rooms had our names and hometowns displayed on the doors, and when we saw a town that shared our side of some arbitrary dividing line, we knew we were with our people. We bonded over shared experiences, even those as simple as regional burger spots and coffee chains. People wore the badge of being “So Bay Area” or “So Nor-Cal” with pride, despite the fact that we actively chose to leave home for college.

Current events have many of our European neighbors looking sideways at the United States.  And frankly, at times I’m disappointed in the behavior of our public figures, who represent America to the world, and disillusioned that my son is growing up in a world where those people are given a platform to disseminate their ignorance.  However, now that I’m halfway across the world, I find myself proudly proclaiming the virtues of our homeland in conversations, assuring the German nationals that we aren’t all like what you see on TV.  In moving away, I’ve somehow recovered hope and optimism for the future of our country.

(2) You miss the potential for opportunities you never even capitalized on when you were home

I didn’t have a driver’s license until college, so my life in high school was quite insular. Each day followed the rhythm of Home-School-Work-Gym-Repeat. For the most part, I only experienced places within walking distance of my parents home. I’m an outdoorsy girl, but my circumstances and schedule did not afford me many opportunities to pursue this interest.   Though the snow and water sport haven that is Lake Tahoe is a reasonable weekend trip away, I believe I only went there a maximum of a half-dozen times during my childhood. My trips to the nearby redwood forests were only slightly more frequent. Despite my underuse of local resources, I always knew that they were there, and that should I acquire some free time, I could potentially enjoy them.

Moving away to college I had a similarly busy schedule, though I did find time to hike once a week on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Santa Barbara is arguably one of the most beautiful campuses on the planet (arguable only in the sense that while you could argue against this statement, you’d be wrong and I would judge you for it), but again I found myself missing more familiar terrain (and yes, I realize how obnoxiously spoiled this sounds, but it is nonetheless my truth). I yearned to hike Mount Tamalpias, Muir Woods, and Armstrong Redwoods. It took leaving the mountains and forests to realize how much I identified with them. Their presence was a security blanket that had been ripped away, and while the palm tree bedazzled beaches were magnificent (and now that I’ve departed Santa Barbara I miss them as well), they were very distinctly unlike my home.

Before leaving the states, Shawn and I created a “California Bucket List” (I will share this in a later post!), and systematically worked our way through it to be sure we would not have regrets.  However, my pregnancy made it so that the last few items – Big Sur, Yosemite, and Fort Bragg’s Glass Beach – were never accomplished.  In the past few weeks, several friends back home have posted pictures in these places, and I find myself yearning to be there, even as I explore this beautiful country we now occupy.  Who knew you could miss a place you’ve never been?

(3) You miss things you never even liked about your home

In high school, I worked at my local Whole Foods Market, and thus went through a very stereotypically Californian vegan/hippie phase. I sincerely believed chocolate mousse made out of tofu was the most delicious treat on earth. I had a fondness for music was made in the 1970s by and for people who smoked copious amounts of marijuana (though I’d never smoked it myself). I dressed like every day was Halloween and my costume of choice was that of a fortune-teller – tiered maxi skirts, peasant tops, fringed kimono. I had a full dozen hoop earrings pierced in my ears. I even had a belly dancer’s coin belt in my arsenal of ridiculous clothing.

While this may have been a common phase for a Californian, it was directly in opposition to the historical culture of my specific hometown. Petaluma, CA was once referred to as “The Egg Capital of The World” a title that is still proudly displayed on signage as one drives into town via Highway 101. Our town’s biggest annual event is Butter and Eggs Day; complete with a parade of people dressed as farm animals and their products as well as a “Dairy Queen” beauty pageant. I was once required by a teacher to join the Future Farmers of America (FFA).   Many of my classmates arrived at school fresh from doing chores on their family’s cattle ranch or dairy farm.

I never felt like I belonged in the dominant culture of Petaluma, and I spent my girlhood eager to escape it. So explain to me why, as soon as I went away to college, I suddenly LOVED country music, and its story lines of the simple pleasures of farm town life? Why did I miss the daily, inescapable sight of cows, even as I found the practice of eating them and/or consuming their products unsettling? Why was I so proud to share a home with Cowgirl Creamery and Three Twins Ice Cream? I abandoned my veganism about halfway through my freshman year at UC Santa Barbara. Suddenly these things I had always disdained felt like home.

Now every time I go grocery shopping in Germany, I sigh a little bit because I can’t find Mt. Tam Triple Cream Brie or “Dad’s Cardamon” ice cream.  In my head, I know I have access to plenty of amazing French cheese and Italian gelato, but in my heart, these products of Petaluma are a source of comfort as I navigate the wide world beyond where I grew up.

Let me know if you’ve experienced any of these feelings. What did you miss when you first left home?  Comment Below!

Also, If you love California like I do, below are some of my favorite state-themed products, linked for your shopping pleasure.  I’ve had my eye on these cool embroidered pillows since I first spotted them in a gift shop following my first flight into LAX almost a decade ago!  Notice, Petaluma is included in the featured cities.  #NoPlaceLikeHome

Besos, Abrazos, and California Love,

Rachel “Reji” Gregoire

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Such a touching post! Thanks for sharing. I’ll follow you and look forward to more stories. I have dual US-Spain citizenship and have spent many years going back and forth. It’s weird to miss both places! Check out our wine country blog at http://www.topochinesvino.com and follow us if you like what you see.


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