Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved. -Don Draper, Mad Men
This is something I learn at greater depths as time goes on. I know I’m still “young” yet, but I’m beginning to understand what it means to have enough life under my belt to truly miss “the way things were” or at the very least, the way I remember things to be.
The thing I find most amusing is the things that create such a potent nostalgia in me. I will hear a song from my childhood (i.e., the entire Graceland album by Paul Simon) or walk into a building that smells like my former preschool and get choked up. When I used to work for the podunk hometown paper, I had to cover the latest happenings for my old elementary school. The first time I walked into the building, which had undergone 0 renovations in 18 years, I experienced something that felt like a euphoric panic attack. It was like I was 9 years old, having an out-of-body experience (from what I’ve heard, they’ve since completely gutted and remodeled the building).
The latest wave of bittersweet recollection has mainly been brought to me from YouTube. I don’t know what’s been going on with my synapses, but recently something I’m doing or something that’s said or nothing at all will trigger a powerful memory I almost completely forgot. Several of these have revolved around shows I used to watch incessantly as a kid.
The first was Faery Tale Theatre, narrated by Shelley DuVall and featuring a whole slew of celebrities.
(I was trying to find a clip of their version of Cinderella, because that was the one I first rediscovered, learning that Matthew Broderick was Prince Charming, but couldn’t find an embedable one. But Broderick? Prince Charming?? Seriously–who knew?!)
The most recent was the Sesame Street Classic, Teeny Little Super Guy–the superhero would oversaw all the friends stored in the kitchen cabinets.
This is probably one of the things that amazes me the most about the Internet/the power of technology: virtually the minute I think of something, I can access it. Instead of having to rely solely on whatever fuzzy dream-like memory I have and the fuzzy dream-like memories of my friends and family, I can type in the convenient little Google search bar at the top of the screen whatever random string of description, or lyrics, or pieces of memory I have, and within seconds, I have my answer. Now, unlike ever before, the future allows us greater access to our past.
I don’t think I can fully describe how it feels to watch these clips again. I guess the Mad Men quote sums it up well: the feeling is like a time machine. It is as if some trigger in my brain goes off and suddenly I am transported, sucked down some sort of weird rabbit hole leading directly back to my childhood and I am 5 or 9 or 10 again. Then, seconds later, I am spit into my adult body. Seeing these things and now understanding these shows and skits on a different level (knowing that the characters in Faerie Tale Theatre were famous actors and actresses, not true princes or princesses; understanding Teeny Little Super Guy was an interesting way to get my attention long enough to teach me practice makes perfect), almost makes me wish I could relive these experiences, rewatch these shows as a child, but with the understanding I have now. I guess I want to find that portal back to my childhood’s being without interrupting my life back then, like in Being John Malkovich (although I really hope it wouldn’t result in everyone around me turning into versions of myself jabbering my own name back and me over and over again–Seriously, how horrifying).
Seeing these clips and having the chance to briefly peer back into my childhood mind makes me realize how much time is passing and how far I’ve come from who I was–it makes me appreciate the journey and, in terms of the changes to come, makes me think “shit, kid–we ain’t seen nothing yet.” It also causes something inside me to seize up and panic. I feel like everything is slipping away steadily, faster than I would like. I fear that my nostalgia will soon be replaced by irrelevancy.
I guess the feeling comes from seeing my grandmother feeling this way. She was mother, she was diligent wife, she was sister, friend, and plus one to various functions and social gatherings. She was the host house for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Since my grandfather passed in 2002, it seems like one by one, these roles her life dictated she be were eliminated, or at least evolved. No longer a wife. Her children all grew up and then her grandchildren grew up. Soon she watched friends and siblings pass away. Traditions evolved with the newly created families within our family. Holidays were relocated. This past Christmas my grandmother sat at our house on Christmas morning, sighed and said, “I remember when our [she and my grandfather’s] house was the place to be on Christmas morning. Now it just sits empty.”
Sometimes when my grandmother recollects like this and draws these morose conclusions, I admittedly roll my eyes. My grandmother, like a good Sicilian woman, can tend to look on the dark side of things. But sometimes, especially recently, I completely understand where she is coming from. No matter how good the good times are, a part of me cannot help but feel it is inevitable they will become bittersweet milestones and markers for what was, what was better, and what has changed, good and bad.
The past few years have really sparked these feelings. After my mom got sick, I suddenly began to cling onto whatever memories I had of “how things were.” I felt like I realized too late that everything around me was delicate, not guaranteed, changing rapidly. When I visit my hometown and pass the cemetery on the way to my parents’ house, I think of how many people I know there now, and how that’s just the beginning. I am more aware now than I ever was of the moments I should be aware of and I try to latch on tightly as I can before I have to let go. I relish in the good moments but always think in the back of my head that this will be something I will look back on and miss. Family gatherings are plagued with these thoughts, some quiet moments with my husband. Even when I hold our lop, Joe, to my chest and feel his heart beat next to mine, I feel myself pressing him closer to me because I know someday I will miss him and that exact moment.
I don’t know if these feelings are new or if they are ones that are always there, maybe ones we don’t understand until we’re older. Maybe these thoughts are similar to my perceptions of these old TV shows. Maybe that extra layer, that subtext, was always there, hiding in the moment, but it took awhile for me to catch on.