The Long Way Home January 6, 2023

 On New Year's Day, folks like to review “the best of…” from the previous year. The best movies, the best books, the best concerts, and the best sports highlights. Boring. I barely remember what I had for breakfast on any given day, so remembering something from the last 12 months is a problem.

The older I get, the more often I wallow in nostalgia for the good old days. In my case, that would be the decade known as the sixties-the boomer years. When I’m lucky, I find a like-minded 60-something to wallow in the nostalgia swamp with me.

Facebook is great for that. I follow pages that present nostalgic photos and memories of Edina, Bloomington, and Richfield where I was born and raised. Those three cities were literally brand new in the 1950s. 

Pictures of Eddie Websters in Bloomington, the Mann France Avenue Drive-In theater in Edina, The Smorgasbord restaurant in Richfield, and the Southdale Mall which centered it all, remind me of the places where I had personal experiences. That’s the thing about nostalgia, it is about being sentimental about a period or place with happy personal associations. The good old days.

I don’t get too nostalgic about the 1940s. Not only was the world recovering from a long-term economic depression, but it was fresh out of the Second World War. And I wasn’t born yet so, no personal associations.

For the nostalgic among us, there are historical societies in almost every community to remind us of the past. There is even a magazine called “The Good Old Days,” a bi-monthly publication that claims to be “The Magazine That Remembers the Best.”

We like to think that life was somehow better in the past. Everyone was better behaved. Politicians were honest brokers working for the people. A dollar was worth something. And electricity was penny cheap. Our memories of course aren’t really accurate.

Franklin P. Adams, a newspaper columnist of some renown almost 100 years ago, pointed out, “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.” 

I once thought my memories of the period of my nostalgia were deadly accurate. My sister, a few years older and the true keeper of memories as I’ve come to realize, always seems to have a different recollection of events and people than I do. My weakening self-esteem leads me to accept her memories as the truth. At least I let her think so.

Another American Journalist from the time before my good old days wrote “Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” 

That may be a good thing but we should not forget that rough edges did exist. 

When I was growing up, a woman could not have credit in her own name. Women were deterred from having a career of their own, except teaching or nursing. Catholics and Lutherans were discouraged from intermarrying. Abortions happened, way before Roe vs. Wade was decided. Redlining kept black people from moving into specific neighborhoods. One scandal in my neighborhood was when a mixed-race couple moved in a block away. We, kids, didn’t know why that was a problem, but for the “adults,” it seemed to be so.

As history seems to be repeating itself in the Russian attempt to destroy the infrastructure and people of Ukraine it seems more important than ever that we all learn about the past. Not with nostalgia, but with a clear-eyed vision to see the rough edges of the good old days and the action necessary to keep them from happening again.