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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

A little bit of hiraeth

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Lynette Sowell

My front porch

There is a Welsh word—hiraeth—for which I’ve heard there is no direct English interpretation. Hiraeth is the feeling we get whenever we think back to how things “used to be.” We’re homesick for a place that doesn’t exist anymore.

It never fails—at least for me—when I travel to New England that I’m struck with a wave of something like homesickness. But I’m not homesick for a place, in particular. It’s a time and place that doesn’t exist anymore. With every day and every year that passes, the reality we know now disappears and can’t be recovered.

Take last summer, for example, when my husband and I visited my family in Massachusetts. We spent a day in the western part of the state, where I once lived and where my parents and much of my extended family lived.

On the way to visit a cousin, we took a detour through downtown South Hadley to drive past the building where my Great-Uncle Enrico Caproni once owned and operated Caproni’s Luncheonette.

Caproni’s was a mainstay for decades in the town, until Uncle Enrico decided to retire. None of my three cousins desired to go into the restaurant business and there was no one else in the family to take on the restaurant. So, it eventually closed. Another successful restaurant, The Egg and I, now operates in the space.

When I saw the restaurant last summer, a wave of hiraeth struck me so hard it almost took my breath away. The building is still there, of course, but the sense of time and the feeling that used to be part of Caproni’s, isn’t. Oh, for a time machine to be able to hop back to when I was a little girl and get a candy bar from Uncle Enrico, and watch my cousins working the grill. But that “place” is gone and I’m left with that sense of hiraeth.

Copperas Cove has its own triggers of hiraeth, too, I’m sure. Covites wistfully recall the bowling alley, the roller-skating rink, and other businesses and people they’ve known and loved and whose doors are no longer open. Businesses close for many reasons, whether it’s hard times, someone retires, or like my cousins, their lives take them away from the area or they’re not interested in continuing the family business.

I see a reaction by some people in the community, lamenting what we “don’t have anymore.” Some get angry and look for someone to blame. It’s also a wistful feeling, to think of what isn’t there anymore. But as day after day and year after year pass by, our present is becoming the seed for future hiraeth. Someday, grown children and grandchildren will say, “I just loved going to Waffle Cone when I was a kid.” Hopefully, they’ll be able to bring their own children to enjoy some homemade ice cream in a place they, too, enjoyed while growing up.

There’s a time for a bit of hiraeth; it’s a natural thing to look back on times and places of the past and miss them. But I remind myself not to forget to enjoy the present, where I am right now, and try to make great memories that will get passed down to those who will come after us.

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