The joys of nostalgia


Perhaps it is necessary to reach “a certain age” for nostalgia to be openly allowed. Unrelated to the soupiness often found this time of year, I find myself with a faulty yearning for a way of life we will never again experience.

I am remembering the days when, to go shopping, mothers dressed their children in ironed clothes, washed their faces, dressed themselves nicely, with hat, gloves and appropriate shoes—perhaps brown and white spectator pumps—set the baby in the pram, and walked the five or six blocks to the grocery. Inside, high-ceilinged and fairly dark, the mother handed her list to the grocer who walked through the store picking up the various items, while the meat man cut and wrapped the meat order. Flour came from a bin behind the counter and was weighed into a brown paper bag. There might be a lollipop each for the older children, to be savored on the walk home.

No one went out in public in curlers, the dresses were leftovers from war years, made out of odd fabrics or colors in many cases.  The hats were small and pert. Shorts were not worn except by boy or girl scouts, while camping.

My family drove a model A Ford of bizarre provenance; our father had bought it, got it running, and sold it about 5 times. It had a great sound, more like a clock than a car. There were little vases on the uprights of the frame, where we could tuck little bouquets of violets or Lily of the Valley. We never went a greater distance than Northfield to Cannon Falls. It was hard to get used to the later, bigger, shinier cars of later years.

In winter, we could skate on the street, and the snow just piled up rather than being trucked away. Since we lived in a basement that barely peeked above the ground, we had some days that required being shoveled out by the neighbors. Our street included 12 post-war quonsets, each with two families, all, of course, the same age. At one point there were 116 kids under 12, so we never lacked for things to do or places to go.

So much of childhood time these days is taken up with planned events overseen by adults that I feel sorry for children who never learn to invent their own fun. At the same time, it is clear that no one finds today’s world to be as safe and open as the world I recall. And I don’t really believe that I would choose that world, with its racism and sexism, over the more dangerous and guarded world of today. The leveling that has occurred is a blessing for most people, although it certainly lacks both the adventure of that older time.

The recent bit of film from Australian researchers in the Maldives, about the very complex universe of octopods in the Maldives is enough to convince me of the correctness of vegan choices, so that I also move yet further away from that historical life I think I yearn for, and I am brought to the conclusion that the historical memory is a false one, and I hope to learn to be more suspicious of its eruption.