The comfort of the familiar

From 1963, one of the first Canadian Inuit silkscreen prints made

By Caitlin Kelly

I love novelty and new adventures, exploring places I’ve never been, meeting people for the first time. I really crave it and miss it…Covid made this much more obvious to me since it denied so much of this, and still does.

But, like many/most people, I also take tremendous comfort in the familiar, maybe much more these days — of climate grief, political vitriol, daily mayhem and violence, inflation — than ever.

I’ve now lived in the same one-bedroom apartment for more than 30 years.

I find this truly astonishing, as I changed homes/residences between August 1982 and June 1989 so many times: Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. It was overwhelming and exhausting, even though my Paris year was the best of my life, still.

I hate moving!

I also was lucky enough to be able to buy this apartment with my first husband, and afford to remain in it, in a place — 25 miles north of Manhattan, its towers clearly visible from our street — where rents are routinely punishingly high. Having a fixed mortgage and maintenance costs allowed me this privilege.

Our next-door neighbor on one side moved in with a shy five-year-old daughter, now a stylish, confident 15-year-old. The other neighbor, Flo, died there, and now her grand-daughter — and 4-month-old daughter — lives there. It’s been a real joy to see new lives and friends arriving.

My maternal great-grandmother’s pastel portrait…basically life-size!

I recently inherited a few items from my late mother, including the images above, and a few smaller decorative items. It’s so lovely and comforting to have that visual continuity. I’d never inherited objects before so I’d never appreciated that element of it.

I love this 177-year-old sampler that for years belonged to my late mother. I have no idea where or when she found it, but it hung in

every one of her homes. I very lightly bleached it and reframed it in acid-free paper with special glass to protect it. Now it hangs in our kitchen.

I love our street. It’s hilly and winding, with a low-level condo complex across, only one private home and lots and lots of trees. It’s normally extremely quiet — and we have terrific Hudson River views. I can’t think what better view we could acquire.

Nor has it changed one bit in all those years.

I love our town, a mix of million-dollar condo’s and projects (subsidized housing.) It’s a mix of old school townies, born and raised here, and a stampede of Brooklyn hipsters.

I like our county, stretching between the Hudson to the west and Long Island Sound to the east.

I like knowing where things are and that some of them are still there.

I like knowing the guy who owns the hardware store, the one his great-grandfather founded. And the former commercial photographer from Manhattan, who came north after 9/11, and who first opened a gourmet store, now a thriving restaurant and whose wife added a busy BBQ joint.

I like knowing the names of the waitstaff at our local diner and hearing their news.

It’s that sort of town.

I’m also lucky to have deep friendships, still, in my hometown of Toronto, so there’s always a loving welcome awaiting, even decades after I left for good. That’s comforting.

I also find it comforting to watch some of the same movies over and over, so much so I know some dialogue and theme music by heart — the Bourne movies, The Devil Wears Prada, Almost Famous, The King’s Speech, All The President’s Men, Billy Elliott, Casablanca, Spotlight and others. I also re-watch some TV series I love, now enjoying the three-season Babylon Berlin on Netflix for the third time — Season Four starts October 8 and I am super excited! And Derry Girls returns October 7.

Not to mention my older favorite music, from my 80s vinyl and my new favorite radio station, Kiki Lounge (132) on Sirius XM, with some of the most unlikely covers — like (amazing!) Dolly Parton’s version of Stairway to Heaven.

I was deeply struck — as maybe some of you were — by the death of Queen Elizabeth. As I’ve written here, I spent two weeks covering a Royal Tour of Canada and met her. To suddenly lose her after 70 years was a shock.

The familiar is comforting. Change can be tiring and disorienting (even if welcome.)

What do you cherish in your life that’s comforting in its familiarity?

9 thoughts on “The comfort of the familiar

  1. there is so much comfort in the familiar and when I moved to my condo, I only took pieces and books that I really loved or had some sort of memory or attachment feel for me. I love having a small group of longtime friends who feel familiar and comfortable and the parks and closeness to town feel like home for me.

  2. Aside from knowing Broadside will arrive each Monday…Until July, I lived a 63-years-long, impermanent, IKEA-kinda life. But when my partner and I decided to move from the west and our 580 sq ft condo to a townhome more than twice that size on the east coast, I swore off impermanence (yeah…good luck with that, Mimm). In support of our move, I was fortunate enough to be given a house full ‘real’ furniture (beautiful, classic, some antique) from an older friend who was selling a home. I take great comfort in this furniture’s weight and permanence. I never had a sofa and our last love seat in our tiny, tiny condo was taken over by our 20-year-old cat Bruce. So to have a place to sit, and chairs, a dining room table…yes, I know they are just ‘things’ but theses things hold memories – energetic reminders of people and places that I love. The memories held in this furniture and the sense of grounded permanence it provides – well, that brings immense comfort.

  3. David Holzman

    First, I love the way you wrote about what’s comforting to you. It sounds wonderful to be 25 miles north of Manhattan along the Hudson. It’s nice to have a mix of people. And of course having financially manageable housing, in this day and age is definitely comforting.

    I just spent the better part of a day, last Tuesday, driving new, interesting cars up and down Bear Mountain. I didn’t have time to savor the views as I would have liked, and didn’t get to drive all the cars I’d wanted to drive, although I got the best of ’em. But I had to drive 200 miles home that day.

    My espresso is comforting to me. My friends. (I wish more of them lived near me though.) My dog. The outer Cape, where my siblings and I have a house my parents built in our childhood.

  4. Brett Hardman

    Surprising finds of my mother’s handwriting, always addendums to recipes, tweaks that invariably improve them. Memories of my old dog. One of my closest friends, very much not a dog person, said that when he looked into her eyes, there’s was something so much more than a dog considering at her. My dad’s (not the bio one) fundamental kindness and easy gentility. Rarely, but sometimes, I’ll catch a glimpse of those in another man. My blue qashqai carpet. It’s ancient and worn and in need of repair, but it’s still beautiful. Somehow that’s conforting.
    So much to love. On a bad day I stumble from one to the next and hang on. On a good day I’m grateful for so many sources of comfort for the bad days.
    Both Aline and Cyn are entries in one of Des’s old phone books. After seeing them I had an urge to look you up.
    I’m very glad to see that you seem to be well, but
    I’m so sorry about Cyn. She reminds me of my mother : a stunning, mysterious, unforgettable woman. lbx

    1. Thanks so much for this…the saddest thing was Cynthia dying alone with no memorial or funeral. That was heartbreaking.

      Things are good…great to hear from you again!

      (Brett is the daughter of a. man my mother dated when we were both12, and found one another online later in life.)

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