Nostalgia Or Delusion: Was Childhood As Great As All That?
Okay. I do it too. I remember the past, especially my childhood with enormous longing. Simpler times, great friends, peaceful, unfettered days filled with innocence and fun.
We join groups on Facebook that provide us with a non-stop stream of memories, many long forgotten and we commiserate about the haunts and foods of our youth. Sharing with others that lived the same existence adds a new dimension and warmth to the entire experience. It can also get impassioned when the topic of the best neighborhood pizza arises.
One post and the flow of incoming additions are abundant. I can almost picture the look on everyone’s face as they reminisce about the restaurant where they held their tenth birthday party. Or perhaps a favorite teacher that filled them with confidence or fear.
Yet, although I’m incredibly guilty of these moments of reflection, I wonder if perhaps there is a bit of sugar coating mixed in with the feelings of warmth and longing.
Do we remember the past wearing rose-colored glasses? Is it because we see life back then only in terms of abstracts and happy memories designed to cover up any unhappiness we might have once felt?
I remember growing up in Detroit as idyllic. Not in a fairy-tale manner of course, nor do I believe it was Utopia, but rather a peaceful and vibrant city filled with fun activities, great friends and no lack of great restaurants, movie theaters and tree-lined streets with manicured lawns.
Recalling youthful snippets flashing by like a trailer from a new Hollywood movie, I always choose to recall joyful images.
Going to the movies was a regular occurrence and my favorite was the Mercury Theater on Schaeffer. I’m afraid it spoiled me for other movie houses with its sidewalls lined with light-reflecting murals of the galaxy. Many times I enjoyed staring at the artwork more than the feature and sadly came to expect a great deal from any future movie venues I frequented. I also remember noting a giant banner under the marquis reading “air-conditioned for your comfort.” Bet my grandsons wouldn’t believe there was a time without it. Boy, am I aging myself here.
Yet it’s so odd that these memories seem to eclipse other more personal ones that were unpleasant. The high school mean girl who singled you out as her victim one day, or a boy you liked asking out a friend. Yep, guess it wasn’t all wine and roses.
Or is it just that at a certain stage of life we refuse to acknowledge time spent unhappily? Is there a great need to embrace those happy moments and hold them close before they may fade forever?
Whenever I tell people I’m from Detroit they look at me as though I’m packing a gun. This image was especially true during the more lawless years when crime was rampant before the rest of the nation caught and far bypassed the motor city. When I replied that Detroit was an awesome city in which to grow up, they were incredulous.
Yet, I’m certain I’m not dreaming when I remember Palmer Park ice skating, Livernois Avenue shopping, turning and seeing Smokey Robinson driving next to you on Outer Drive, downtown Hudson’s, the Eastern Market, great schools, amazing food and crossing the Ambassador Bridge or driving through the tunnel to Windsor. It was always fun to see the flags change between America and Canada on the tiles halfway across.
Now I wonder if it’s just age that makes us long for those simpler days, when the community was small and holidays seemed to be shared by everyone, or you could walk alone to a friend’s house five blocks away or play outside until the street lights came on.
People knew their Sanders, Awry’s or Good Humor deliveryman by name and when we heard the bell we ran into the house to let our mother know great goodies were available curbside.
Perhaps one reason those days seem so unfettered and blissful are the turbulent times we’re living today. So often I feel badly for my grandchildren in such a chaotic world, but will they also look back someday on their childhood with rose-colored glasses?
Is it merely that mankind keeps muddling the waters and the years fill with more chaos as they fly past?
Was it really so Utopian or am I choosing to overlook the cold war and neighbors building fall-out shelters in their back yards?
Forgetting hearing the bell in school as we walked downstairs to the basement of our elementary school to sit next to an asbestos-covered pipe to hide from an atom bomb? I imagine many more people died from that asbestos than an atom bomb, that thank goodness never came.
Am I forgetting the Detroit riots, eating my Frosted Flakes while watching a black girl my age on television being escorted into school by the National Guard, the McCarthy hearings or Viet Nam? Or watching Hitchcock’s Psycho and needing my mother to sit in the bathroom with me until I was, well, I still do, and believing it was all so stress free?
Or is this a result of the fact we are in the midst of true craziness where the world seems upside down?
It was easy when we were children to figure it all out. Good, bad, hard, easy, right, wrong; the lines seem so blurred now.
So I just sit and commiserate with friends about those simpler times when whether or not things were good, we believed they were. When life was less confusing and neighbors sat out on the porch on a summer evening to catch a cool breeze and smoke a cigarette.
When I rushed home from school to watch American Bandstand and we spent the weekends reading Archie, Superman or Katy Keene comics and exchanging movie star pictures cut out of Photoplay or Modern Screen.
After school eating a creamsicle on the porch watching the neighborhood boys play baseball or football in the street. Or jumping on the pile of leaves my father had raked to burn at the curb filling the air with the smell of autumn and visions of Halloween soon to come.
I’d rather focus on those good times than turn on a news report, or think about the fact I have to miss my grandson’s graduation or birthday party because an evil virus has created havoc.
As time goes by the years fly faster and any time not spent in the here and now seems so wasted. Yet if I gain some small modicum of happiness holding on to some pleasant memories where is the harm?
Many may say it’s more important to live your life in the present than dwell on the past, and yes it is. Still in these times when we are not able to create as many happy memories with friends and family I will default to the ones I possess. Someday we may even choose to remember how good it was back then, even in this very turbulent moment in time.
Lelli’s Like Minestrone
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 stick butter
2 cans (16 oz. ea.) Veg-All
2 cans (14 oz. ea.) chicken broth
20 oz. northern white kidney beans
1 can (14 oz.) whole tomatoes, chopped
1/2 pkg. frozen spinach (or fresh)
2 T. tomato paste
2 T. garlic powder
2 T. chopped parsley
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 t. basil
1/3 c. cooked small macaroni
1/3 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
a small amount of chick peas (optional). I never use these.
- Sauté onion and garlic in butter
2. In a large soup pot, put Veg-All, chicken broth, northern beans, whole tomatoes and all liquids from cans.
3. Add spinach, tomato paste, garlic powder, parsley, salt, pepper, basil, sautéed onion and garlic.
4. Cook slowly for 1 1/2 hours.
5. Take 1/2 of the soup and blend in food processor. I use an immersion blender and it’s so much easier.
6. Pour it back in the soup pot.
7. Add macaroni and heavy cream.
8. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
10. Cook slowly 1/2 hour.