Brow Beat

Reading Strangers’ Beautiful Tweets About Their Memories of Home Is Incredibly Moving

It turns out Twitter is the perfect delivery system for other people’s nostalgia.

Photo by Elena Elisseeva/Thinkstock

I like all very short–form prose: fortune-cookie fortunes, changeable church signs, one-liners, aphorisms, one-panel cartoon captions, comic-strip speech bubbles, jokes on dirty postcards, non sequiturs, and Twitter. Twitter is where I put my idle thoughts to work, kind of. Many of my passing thoughts pass into nothingness when I tweet them, but sometimes they lead to interesting conversations. Last night I had a thought, a sincere one: “Texas is all right, but I could really go for a raspberry lime rickey about now.” 

raspberry lime rickey is a peculiarly New England soft drink: they were everywhere in my Massachusetts childhood. If you’re thirsty for one, nothing else will do. I live in Texas now, where nobody has ever heard of them. Then I realized that I don’t love raspberry lime rickeys, it was just a wave of homesickness disguised as a particular thirst. I added other things I miss about Massachusetts: the ocean, candlepin bowling, fond rudeness, 18th century things, and certain people.

Then I asked what other people far from home missed.

People answered immediately and touchingly. Lots of people missed regional food: Tastykakes, something called “Lebanon bologna.” Philadelphians fell into reveries about soft pretzels. But more people missed things that can’t be fit into care packages: birdsong, landscapes, knowing which direction you were headed because the ocean was on your left, weather, seasons, ineffable smells. The tweets had the specificity and emotion of pop songs: some you could dance to and some you could cry to. I follow a lot of writers, but even so I was knocked out by the beauty of the images: The thrown newspaper in a driveway snow divot. Flat overcast light on the Pacific. The back-to-school smell of the ketchup factory. Old brick sidewalks warped by roots and having the whole world at eye level.

Previously I would have said that nostalgia can never be experienced secondhand, but it turns out Twitter is the perfect delivery system for other people’s nostalgia: each tweet was a little pressurized jolt of somebody else’s longing for something lost. 

Some people missed other human beings (mothers alive and dead, friends, lost loves, the occasional father), but the most commonly cited living entities by far were fireflies. Well, of course. There’s nothing like them: each appearance of a firefly is newly thrilling, but also an encore performance of every other firefly’s glow you’ve ever attended. Would they mean so much if they flew around switched on? No, it’s the way they blink on, then disappear, then turn back on. It’s their absence that makes them beautiful.