DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — A Proustian Moment

It’s been said “you can’t go home again.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel with that title. Ernest Hemingway often returned to places that had been important in his life, such as the spot in Italy where he had been wounded in World War I. But invariably, he arrived at the same conclusion.

My favorite French author, Marcel Proust (his novel was translated in English as “Remembrance of Things Past”), believed one could go home again in memory, but even that, in today’s jargon, “was complicated.”

I snapped this photo on Saturday in Bismarck, N.D., of a big old house at 930 N. Fourth Street, converted long ago into small rental units.

Seeing it gave me a “Proustian” moment. I was flashed back 50 years to June 1966, when I lived on the top floor. Bismarck’s population then was less than 30,000; today it is nearly 70,000.

These days, the apartment would be called a “studio,” consisting of a room with a fake fireplace and a sofa that converted into a bed, and another room with a small stove, refrigerator, sink, and tiny adjacent toilet-shower combination.

My parents loaned me a bookshelf as well as a “coffee table” to place in front of the sofa. I stored my clothing in the trunk I had taken to college.

Since I was alone most of the time, I used any available floor space to stack books, file boxes, and a portable record player.

I had just graduated from Northwestern and taken a job in the Bill Guy Administration. My duties involved public information tasks in the State Highway Department, including tourism promotion. After hours, I was expected (with no additional pay) to help edit the Democratic-NPL Party’s newspaper, “The Leader.”

I worked in the Capitol building, where meeting young women was easier than I had ever imagined. Most were of German descent. One who saw my apartment was so appalled by the week’s worth of dirty dishes in the sink that she insisted on washing them.

From there, my career took me to the University of North Dakota, then to St. Cloud State University and finally back to UND ,where I remained until I took early retirement in 2005.

Since the recent Bismarck visit, I’ve wondered how many dwelling places I’ve lived in since my year at 930 N. Fourth Street.

I’m a pack rat, so I do have some documentation: copies of all of the federal income tax forms I’ve filed since 1966.

So far, I’ve resided in 17 places, all but once as a renter, for periods ranging from one to eight years (the longest stint in the Ware House Apartments in Grand Forks, N.D.).

My current abode is with my partner Dorette Kerian in Bloomington, Minn., where we’ve now been for going on five years. Previously, we lived for six years on Primrose Court in Grand Forks as well as a briefly in Eden Prairie, Minn.

One thing is for certain.

If I thought that girl of German descent was demanding about household cleanliness and neatness in my 1966 place in Bismarck, I still had much to learn when I hooked up with Dorette, who is of Polish-Czech ancestry but with the same attitude.

But, fortunately for me, she is reasonably tolerant about what I do — or don’t do —- in her house.

Leave a Reply