Walking through the farmers market last week, I sensed a rumbling somewhere in my psyche. The temblor felt good. It seemed to release a sweet scent. It also hurt a little. I recognized the sensation as nostalgia, literally meaning ‘home-ache,’ the sweet pain of longing for home. Nostalgia stirs longings for our younger, more innocent selves and perhaps for a younger, more innocent nation and earth. The market stirs this feeling in me.
Later, I rooted around in the earth of memory, tried to rub the dirt off my past and stare into it, as far as I could, back to my first farmers market.
Suburban Maryland, forty-plus years ago. Mom drove a long blue station wagon. We four kids piled in without seat belts. I cannot remember much at all, except that it was an indoor space with arched windows, there were many tables of goods, and the farmers and their wives looked very different from the suburban adults that peopled my world. Some were Amish and perhaps their garb had much to do with the delight I felt. It was as if I were transported to another world, one of the ones I wished to inhabit more than my own, the world of Laura Ingalls and the little house in the big woods. More than the foods brought by the farmers, I was drawn to the handicrafts; whittled toys that Pa might have made in long evenings by the hearth, jars of pickles and jams that Ma and Mary and Laura could have cooked up in a steamy kitchen over a big, black, wood-burning stove. What I remember best about the farmers market of forty years ago is that it filled my eight-year-old heart with nostalgia. Apparently, even as children we can be wistful for childhood, even childhoods we didn’t have, even childhoods nobody had, exactly.
I have a friend, Pamela Smith Hill, who is an authority on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘real’ life. I was, perhaps unreasonably, surprised to learn from Pamela’s biography of Wilder that Wilder’s tales of pioneer hardiness and self-reliance turned a rose-tinted lens upon her past. The stories were historical fiction, not history, and the real Ingalls family endured a grittier reality than the archetypal family of the books. So, as it turns out, my farmers market-induced nostalgia was for a fictionalized, idealized world. After some reflection, I’ve discovered that I’m okay with this. In fact, I really like it.
When I crack open the market-fresh egg of my nostalgia, the initial longing for long-gone Edens is quickly overrun by even an sweeter, more painful longing for future Edens, for tomorrows that begin with the beets and berries before me now. I project the crimson roots into an unforgettably startling soup shared with friends and I picture the season’s first berries dropping from my fingers into small, eagerly open mouths. In my imagination, the beets and berries melt into golden moments that someday, maybe, someone, maybe, will remember, maybe, fondly. I like imagining this world. I like making it possible.
Nostalgia blends memory and imagination; fact and myth, hope and desire. Its sweetish scent can be detected in attics, yearbooks, playgrounds and, wonderfully, in the aisles of the farmers market. Where else can you dig around in the earth of memory, touch the taproot of imagination, then eat?
Miriam Garcia is a folklorist-foodie, freelance writer and guardian of a super-secret chicken soup recipe. You can contact her at Miriam_G@me.com