Nostalgia

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By Hardy Jackson

My generation is on a nostalgia kick.
This is what happens when a cluster of codgers have outlived their usefulness and have time on their hands to look back on the days when they were young.
We cherry pick the good times out of all the not-so-good that went on, and exchange e-mails full of “remember when” driblets.
And if what is sent to me is any indication, the two things that send my generation into fits of selective memory are cars and music.
On a regular basis, I get inbox filling e-mails full of pictures of cars with flying fins, white sidewalls, and colors that Detroit has not used since 1960 – turquoise and pink being high on the list. Apparently there are folks who think these machines represent the epitome of engineering excellence and sophisticated design. Not me.
As I recall, if you every got 50,000 miles out of one you had better trade it in fast for its shelf-life was about done. We had a ‘59 Chevy that drove like a truck, drank oil like it was gas, and drank gas like it owned a refinery. Engineering excellence? Right.
As for style, it looked like the designer was trying to predict a future that never came. It was, to put it plain, ugly.
We also had a ’52 Plymouth, a tank of a car that even by Detroit’s then-low standards was a lemon when it rolled off the assembly line.
To my embarrassment, Daddy would not trade it in, sell it, or junk it. It was the perfect politician’s car, so he saved it for campaigns for he knew that there were voters who would see a candidate in a new car and believe he was enriching himself in office.
For a while, Daddy had a WWII surplus Jeep. It died an inglorious death on a dirt road in South Alabama, far from the battle lines for which it was born – just quit, gave up, surrendered.
Now, I may treasure the memories of what happened in these cars, but the cars themselves hold little charm for me.
No, for that matter, do cars in general.
The only vehicle I ever owned that I recall with any fondness was a 1975 VW Bus that doubled as a camper and canoe carrier.
Bought it used for $1,500 and named it “Perspective” because, as I was fond of saying, it allowed me to “put everything in perspective.”
It died outside Athens, Georgia, when I was taking my beloved dog to the UGA Veterinary School to see if anything could be done to save him from the cancer that was taking his life. Nothing could.
I lost my dog and “Perspective” the same day.
Not much to get nostalgic over.
The music is another thing.
“They” (whoever “they” are) say that music and smell revive memories quicker than any other stimuli.
Well, I don’t know about that, but the other day my buddy JL sent me a link to a website that would connect you to the music of your generation.
I had a good time wasting an afternoon listening to one hit after another and remembering 1955 and the look on my Daddy’s face when he came into my room to find out what the racket was and heard “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bop-bop.”
Now that’s a memory worth keeping.
It seems to me that in this nostalgic rush we tend to forget (or in most cases simply ignore) the bad stuff that went on “back then,” and often misrepresent the good to make it look better than it was.
But who wants to remember teenage acne, dateless proms and the guy who took the girl you loved.
So, we rush to the past. We gather together for reunions where we “catch-up” only to discover that catching up gets old fast. Looking into the face of some guy or girl who used to be young is like looking into the mirror every morning and remembering that it is now and not then.
You love those folks from long ago, but the longer “ago” becomes, the more today intrudes into then and presents you with now.
A friend tells me of how he and some classmates from long ago have an annual fishing trip.
When the tradition started they would meet, drink whiskey, talk about chasing women (maybe even chase some), drink some more, and maybe fish a little.
Now they meet, have an occasional beer, talk about high blood pressure and prostate problems, play cards, and maybe fish a little.
And someone might mention “back then,” but those tales have been told and most don’t improve with re-telling.
The older I get, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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