I am a living time capsule — we all are
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Not so much, actually…
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr and me
Lately, I’ve found myself choking up over old photographs. They’re not actually old to me. They’re from a time I remember quite clearly. Yes, I was alive in the way back when. I was alive in the time of bobby socks and poodle skirts and ‘55 Chevy station wagons with no seat belts. Fins on cars weren’t even all that big when I came along.
I get that life is change. I understand that the world that produced me has now vanished forever and that describing it to people significantly younger than myself is akin to telling fairy tales. Yes, five men did come pouring out of the gas station when you pulled your mammoth leaded-gas guzzler into the station. One did actually pump the gas while another checked your oil, another the air pressure in your tires, a fourth man washed your windows and the fifth took your money. Yes. That was real.
There really were Burma Shave signs along the roadway. Chubby Checkers really was that wildly popular, as was Elvis – and yes, we all did the Twist, even us little kids. We rode fat-tired bikes and we could buy a huge bag of candy for a quarter.
Don’t for a moment think I don’t remember what was flawed about the time. I was aware of quite a bit of what was wrong, even then. Now, with the power of hindsight, I realize we had so much work to do – human rights of all sorts abrogated as if it was normal. Sweeping domestic abuses under carpets because they were so unsightly, which allowed them to continue unchecked. Putting what we considered socially appropriate over what was right (if difficult) nearly every time.
I’m not saying it was perfect, but I do believe I am allowed to miss – and even grieve for – what was lovely.
I miss how young we all were. I miss my young parents and I miss being a kid.
I miss my strong, young body that could play from dawn to dusk on those endless, sweltering summer days that graced the eternity of summer vacation.
I am sad that I never got to be one of the grownups sitting gossiping on the front porch during those summer evenings, watching the kids chase now-scarce fireflies because TV and, now, computers, killed that culture forever and replaced it with silent neighborhoods with everybody indoors at night.
I miss those fat-tired bicycles, although you can, if you try, find variations on that theme.
I miss the smell of the school when it started up again – crayons, new pencils, library paste, cafeteria food, varnished floors and chalk dust. Schools do not smell that way anymore. I’ve been in them. They don’t smell of anything.
I miss the smell of the air – it was different, cleaner. I miss the lighter weight of a smaller world population and I miss the feeling of not being afraid we’ve been killing the earth.
I miss being naïve. I really, really miss that. I miss thinking that anything was possible and that all the exciting stories I told myself about my unknown future surely would come true.
I miss the newness of the modern era – my father was born the year women got the vote and my grandmother most assuredly grew up without electricity in the Missouri of the new 20th century. It was all so startling and surprising to see all the new things come to pass – transister radios, space flight, 45 rpm records of the latest hits – and their less impressive flip sides. Color TV with more than two channels. Nauga hyde couches.
You in the under-50 set have no idea just how primitive things were when I was born, how simple the technology. Go back and watch newsreels of the time – that world seems inconceivable now.
Honestly, I don’t feel all that old – at least, not to myself – but I watched the first manned space flight on our black and white TV, saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, remember JFK being alive and adored, saw “The Yellow Submarine” when it came out in the theatres, experienced desegregation in my grade school. I also saw civil rights marches live on TV and watched in horror as calm, civilized people marching peacefully had water cannons turned on them and dogs set to attack them. I remember vividly where I was when both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King were shot. I remember go-go boots and white lipstick and bouffants and Elizabeth Taylor being scandalous. I remember when divorce was shocking. I remember when your entire family would be talked about for years if your mother brought a box cake to a school picnic; cakes were made from scratch, thank you.
I remember wanting desperately to go to Woodstock, when Haight-Ashbury burst into people’s consciousness. I remember the peace sign and saying “groovy” without the slightest embarrassment. I remember Nixon and the Vietnam War heating up and singing protest songs in coffee houses. I remember disco (I loathed it, but Bette Midler was still awesome). I now honestly remember half a century and more (my first memories are clear from the time I was 16 months old – that’s when I started talking in complete and grammatically correct sentences; spooked the snot out of the grownups).
What younger people envision in black and white, I remember in color. I am a living time capsule. Ultimately, we all are.