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Nostalgia v. Memory

The other day I mentioned the theme of nostalgia v. memory. I think I hit upon a perfect example of that yesterday.

It's amazing that, 42 years into this thing called life, I still haven't let myself give in to the fact that nothing stays the same forever. Not even forever. Nothing stays the same from year to year. Yet nostalgia makes me feel as if it should. Every November, I start longing for a White Christmas even though this means shoveling and driving in snow and just the extra burden of trying to prepare for the holidays in the middle of a winter storm, I still expect Christmas to be like it was when I was seven or ten or even twelve. Not just the weather, but the feelings and surroundings; that palpable excitement in the air, the anticipation of presents, the comradery of family, the smell of things baking and cooking all the time, the yards of wrapping paper and ribbon strewn from end to end of the house, the malls bustling with little kids wrapped in winter coats, waiting to see Santa.

Was Christmas ever like that? Or was it like that one year, or two and because I have such fond memories of it, that's the way I choose to believe Christmas really was? Nostalgia v. Memory. A bit of both, maybe, or just my mixed memories of the most perfect thing about each Christmas mixed together to make some Hallmark perfect holiday scene? And even if that's what I expect each year, I never really get it. And I'm ok with that. Each Christmas, each winter vacation has been wonderful on its own, and from each one, I take a memory here and a memory there and add it to my growing picture of what Christmas Perfect is like. Nostalgia, maybe, is a growing collage of everything wonderful.

And now, the same thing with summer. Every June I think: summer! Freedom! Bare feet Long nights chasing fireflies! But is it like that? I can't stand the heat. I don't even want to be outside to take the garbage out, let alone chase fireflies at night. We rarely stop the ice cream truck because we buy Good Humor assorted novelty ice cream in bulk at Costco. We just walk out to the freezer in the garage and take our pick. I don't swim. I hate getting wet, I hate the act of going into the pool, the water creeping up on me, my wet bathing suit clinging to me, kids splashing in my face and someone always trying to make me go underwater when I just don't want to. But the sound of someone jumping into a pool, the splash landing - if I close my eyes and listen to that, it's like someone is playing the feelgood hit of the summer in my head; maybe I'm in grade school and we're dancing to Sugar, Sugar on the front lawn, the grass tickling my bare feet as I twist and shout in my flower power bathing suit. Maybe it's later than that and Beach Baby is playing and I'm sunburned and hanging out with my friends on some random street corner, waiting for someone's older brother to show up with the firecrackers. Every June I anticipate reading in the backyard under the tree, the distant sound of kids chasing each other through yards, the smell of charcoal and hamburgers wafting through the neighborhood, the snap of a cold beer being opened, the smell right before a thunderstorm.

Again, it's nostalgia. My summer memories are not so idle, not so idyllic, but the nostalgic part of my memory has woven this tapestry of perfection, threads taken from every summer before, from our trips upstate, to the car rides to the beach, to the bells of the ice cream man, and I hang that tapestry in my head and think: that's what summer is, even though right now it's crying about the electric bill because the A/C is always running, and the lawn is brown from the heat and it's July and already my garage is filling up with back to school supplies.

Yesterday we were in Target, perusing the DVD section, when I spotted the box set for Wacky Races. A tingle of joy went through my as I grabbed for the box. I must have it! Penelope Pitstop! Dick Dastardly! And then I thought: Nostalgia v. Memory. Was this show really that good? Did I enjoy it enough to spend thirty dollars on it? Or was that tingle of joy more reminiscent of sitting in front of the tv on a Saturday morning, eating sugared cereal and watching cartoons for hours? I chastised myself. You can't replicate your childhood with a DVD box set, not even if you had a bowl of Quisp and superhero pajamas.

Nostalgia v. Memory is why so many bad movies appear on our list of favorites; who really thinks that Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is great stuff? Only someone who had a good time watching that movie. It's why I love Sister Christian and Don't Stop Believing, why I still read Archie comics, why I'll get giddy with excitement when I see an old school Asteroids coin-op in an arcade.

And as much as I try to replicate my perfect-in-my-mind childhood for my kids, I have to be reminded constantly my nostalgia is not their idea of a good time. They don't want to live through my personally woven tapestry of good times, and I can't say I blame them. Even though they will sit for an hour or so and play Atari games with me, I think they do it more for the laughs. They shrug at Flintstone reruns and their idea of building a great summertime memory is to spend the night at Dave and Buster's, inserting tokens into machines, killing zombies and whatnot. And that's fine. They have to build their own tapestries so, many years from now, they can be nostalgic for the things that made their childhood great, so they can make their own bit of idyllic perfection, creating a collage of best of, like a fading band putting together a greatest hits collection. Eventually, they'll sit in front of their own televisions in their own houses, watching DVDs of the early years of Power Rangers and realizing that nostalgia makes memories more colorful than they really might be, and there's nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all wrong with remembering all the good times in one package, even if that package cost me thirty dollars plus a box of Quisp.

I know what I'm doing Saturday morning.


A year ago I bought the Looney Toons Gold DVD set. One of the extras on the set was the opening credits for the old Bugs Bunny Show. It originally aired in the 50's, I think, but I watched it every weekday night as a repeat in the 1960's when I was about five years old. The thing is that memory was completely gone until I saw it on the DVD. Then it came rushing back so hard and fast I was able to sing along with the theme song effortlessly. For about thirty seconds I felt the kind of joyfull nostalgia you describe in your post. And then it was gone, but for those thirty seconds I felt exactly the way I did fourty years ago when that theme song came on.
Maybe the way the kind of nostalgia you write about works is that it smears those moments of happiness out so that we remember all of childhood summers or Christmas seasons being immersed in that joy when in reality it was only an occasional thing. On the other hand a philosopher might say that what we're "remembering" is a glimpse of heavan translated into terms a human can grasp.
Personally I hope the second explanation is the truer of the two.

Michele? This may be OT, but since you--again--brought up "Sister Christian," I think your should go take a gander at this.

And don't miss the article about "people in need of a vicious beating."

I'm kind of guilt-plagued admitting it, but I agree with the guy about Broadway Joe.

Actually, I've rented the Wacky Races discs, and they hold up pretty well. You should check them out. If you don't want to buy them or rent them, add them to your birthday or Christmas want list.

The Penelope Pitstop and the Ant Hill Mob show is also out.

Penelope Pitstop was a cock-teasing bitch! All those times other Wacky Racers helping her out, thinking that just once, once, she'd put out... but she never did. I'm sure Rufus Ruffcut got so horny that he gave a whole new meaning to "screwing a little beaver" (Poor Sawtooth)