Nostalgia Ain't What It Used to Be
When Christmas arrived at our household, a time of great joy and celebration, of course, all thoughts of politics, culture and the frequent nastiness of things in general were put aside. Naturally, this was an occasion to immerse oneself into a sugar-plums-dancing-in-your-ears, Jack-Frost-roasting-on-an-open-fire, Hillary-free day, to be enjoyed by everyone in our family, ranging in age from seven months to seven decades or so. Christmas music hummed in the background, red and green lights twinkled everywhere, peels of laughter and mirth rippled through the air, a ninety-pound black Labrador imitated a lap dog, trying out one lap after another — things didn’t get better than that. Until, that is, the first present was opened, in this case, by one of the grandchildren.
First, an explanation. Our household Christmas gathering isn’t exactly like the one depicted in A Christmas Story, which explored Ralphie’s angst — fully justified, in my view — over whether or not he would get a Red Ryder BB Gun, but some memories come close. It was an era during which Truman was president, then Eisenhower, half the programs on our black-and-white television were Westerns, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Captain Midnight, and Superman reigned supreme, Saturday morning cartoons were a joy, comic books littered rooms (now, where did I put that 3-D Mighty Mouse book?), the Yankees always won the pennant, and who didn’t have a crush on Annette Funicello? Great Christmas gifts included building blocks, wooden Tinkertoys, western forts, packages filled with cowboys and Indians or soldiers (Americans as well as Germans and Japanese), finger-slicing erector sets, wood-burning kits (which now would be banned), packages of baseball cards (I’ll trade you a Mantle for a Williams), chemistry sets (probably toxic), and those amazing Revell plastic model kits with World War Two themes, P51s, B17s, Jeeps, cannons, and naval vessels, especially the U.S.S. Arizona. My dad gave me a battery powered Sherman tank with movable treads and it rumbled over everything. I even ran it inside our 1949 Mercury, but it kept tumbling off the seat. Ah, nostalgia.
Now, back to the future and that modern Christmas gift. It was wrapped in a Pringles-like tube, and when she pulled it out, I had no idea what it was. Then she extended the thing out like a telescope to five feet or so and attached her iPhone on the end, tossing off a how-can-you-not-know-what-this-is expression in my direction. It was a selfie-stick, obviously, good for jamming a bunch of faces together at one end so you could take pictures with your curly-cordless-phone-camera thingy at the other end. Pretty clever, I guess. The rest of the session went along swimmingly, of course — “Oh, that’s darling,” “Great shoes!” “Remember, we can always return it” — those sorts of things. Two of the sons carried in a huge package containing a battery powered, two-seater Volkswagen for five-year-olds, and it reminded me of the Bug I used to drive decades ago — about the same size, too.
But my thoughts kept returning to that selfie apparatus and how the world has changed, and not necessarily for the better. The presents we received back in the day now would be considered nerdy, dangerous, or too aggressive and therefore probably illegal. Still, nobody got hurt and we all remember our gifts with great fondness, inspiring warm nostalgia. But what will the present generation remember in an era dominated by the incredible phoniness of “hurt feelings,” symbolized by micro-aggressions, trigger warnings and identity egotism? What will they remember about a president who admires himself in a mirror and goes golfing while Americans abroad get beheaded and brave soldiers get wounded or killed? What will they remember about their youthful days dominated by “selfies?”
Probably, I’m making too much of this, but somehow it seems unlikely that Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope or even Elvis Presley, who was drafted into the Army and served his time, would understand. Today, my generation can be inspired and humbled by such men as Chris Kyle and Pat Tillman and all the brave men and women involved in the Wounded Warriors Program. Like their magnificent forbears in the forties and fifties, they inspire nostalgia in the best sense of the word.
But what sort of nostalgia will greet the current generation a half century from now? Likely they will conclude, as many of us have today, that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.