I belong to many nostalgia lists. Most of these sites center on memories of Philadelphia, since that’s where I spent my childhood and adolescence. Mostly these sites just make me homesick for cheesesteaks, water ice (or wadder ice, in the Philadelphia vernacular), and all-night diners where late dates ended over “kitchen sink” ice cream boats.
However, many of these sites veer into other memories that are not anchored in the City of Brotherly Love (soon to be the site of the raucous Democratic convention, heaven help them). Some posts are pure Baby Boomer nostalgia and some of the pictures bring back less than pleasant memories, although some make me sigh for innocence lost.
Here is a short list. I’ve tried to pick things that are more universally relateable, especially to the women in the group:
– Avoiding gym at any cost – okay, so maybe now you are a gym rat with Lulumom pants and a playlist of bouncy music to inspire you to bike or hike or lift weights. Back in the day, our uniforms were ugly bloomers, moving meant endless jumping jacks or sit-ups with another girl holding your feet. My personal plague was gym apparatus: ropes and rings suspended from the ceiling and vaulting horses. I used to carefully position my feet on the ropes, and then just hang there. I simply could not will my arms to pull me upward. BTW, in my adult life I have never had any real life situation that required my climbing a rope or flying over a pummel horse. What a waste of time.
– Avoiding gym showers at ALL costs – you get that gym was not my natural habitat, right? I don’t think any school could get away with shared showers and teachers roaming to shower room to make sure you got your whole body in. There was a technique, by the way, to avoiding the wetness. You perhaps poked a leg in while wearing your (illegal) bra and panties. You then waved your towel under the pouring water and were dressed and gone as fast as you could. Thanks to ancient mythology about not taking showers at “that time of the month”, you could fake a note from your mother and avoid the situation. As I look back, I was “unwell” for at least three weeks out of every month.
– Pain-in-the-neck undergarments – cotton Maidenforms with airplane-shaped cups and straps that broke at the most inappropriate times. Slippery half-slips that always showed from beneath your skirt. Garter belts and girdles constructed for tall women only. Stockings seldom were available in size short so we short girls had to roll the tops and punch holes in the stockings with the garter. The stockings always bagged at the knees and ankles, anyway.
– Using nail polish to fix “ladders”—on the subject of stockings, what did you do when you were all dressed up for a date and you snagged your stockings? Of course, you ran for your clear nail polish and stopped the run with a glop of polish. However, if you moved your stockings during the evening (say to use the ladies’ room), you would have a dried glob of polish on your leg for the rest of the night.
– White lipstick and Cleopatra eyes – last night, at dinner, two high school friends and I were talking about a deceased friend who was never seen without dead white lips and black cat’s eye liner. She really was as sweet person, but she always looked like Elvira, Queen of the Night.
– Clearasil – it really didn’t cover anything. In fact, it probably drew more attention to the zit than if you just left the damn thing alone.
– Going “downtown” for a date – in my neck of the woods, there were two kinds of dates: downtown and neighborhood. Going to Center City for a date was a big deal. The boy was really trying to impress you. It usually involved dressing up (including all the undergarments I mentioned), wearing heels, and your “good coat”, you saw a first run movie in a movie palace with plush seats and rococo décor. You went to a nicer restaurant for a bite to eat after the date. “Parking” might be the price of the date. (Author’s note: my mother and sisters impressed on me early that there were “good” girls and “nice” girls. I was always a good girl. I seldom had a second date).
– Going to the movies with girlfriends on a Friday night – for me this may be the definitive experience of adolescence. A group of girls would go to a local theatre, share popcorn, and laughs. We would also stare longingly at our “crushes” who were always dating someone else. Among these privileged people, the beautiful and popular kids, there was a strange ritual of running up and down the theatre aisles and tossing boys’ silver Speidel I.D. bracelets back and forth. The goal, of course, was to capture the boy’s bracelet that symbolized that you were going steady.
– Shared historical experiences – truly, the Boomer generation lived in interesting times. Soooo, here is a sub test.
Where were you when:
- Alan Shepherd and John Glenn rode their rockets straight up and straight down, and we watched amazed that President Kennedy’s mission to space was underway.
- President Kennedy was shot.
- You saw your first episode of Howdy Doody?
- You fell madly in love with Spin and/or Marty?
- (For the guys or the gays): You fell madly in love with everyone’s sweetheart, Annette Funicello?
- You watched men walk of the moon?
- You watched Sirhan Sirhan brought down by Rosey Greer as cries of “Not another Dallas” rang through the crowd.
– Television in one room – a former boss once visited my home and laughed at the fact that we had at least one TV in every room in the house, including one of the little hand-held ones in the bathroom. I was overcompensating. As a kid, we had one. It was black and white at least till the late sixties. My father controlled it. We watched Westerns. Sometimes we watched quiz shows. Then came the quiz show scandals, and we didn’t watch quiz shows as much because everyone knew they were rigged. Now I have, like, two hundred channels and can’t find a thing I want to watch.
– We had one (usable) bathroom – five people, four of them female, and one bathroom. I don’t know how we did it.
– Our neighborhood really was a village – long before the concept of porches on the front of houses was revived, we sat on our small concrete slabs or on the front stoop (sometimes called steps). Every parent in the neighborhood knew every kid. You got away with nothing. It also sometimes left to humorously gossipy situations. One of my brothers-in-law came from a family of undertakers. Periodically, he would pick my sister up for a date in a hearse. The minute his car came up the street, every neighbor would be out on the porch trying to see who died.
– The corner candy store was a “hang-out” for bad kids – of course, it wasn’t true. However, the kids who hung out at the candy store did play the pinball machine in the back (because X-box hadn’t been invented yet, duh!). My mother considered this the ultimate mark of a low class kid. We were forbidden to go there, after school. Since my mom was a working mother far before the trend, the rules got broken.
– We took buses and subways, everywhere – we had only one car. It belonged to my father and he used it for business. If we wanted to go anywhere, we walked or we took public transportation. After we turned sixteen, some of our friends had their own cars and they would pick us up to go “bombing around”. Looking back, I would gladly live that way, again. I am a bad driver and I hate driving. However, as an adult, I have almost always lived in the suburbs without public transportation. Hey, genie in the bottle, one of my three wishes is to live in an accessible neighborhood.
– Our music had words that we could sing without disgracing our parents – I went to see Beautiful, the Musical, for my birthday, this past weekend. During intermission, there was a lobby full of people who looked just like my husband and me. It was a Bandstand of Baby Boomers, gray haired and paunchy, but characteristically self-centered about the quality of the music they were hearing. The only conversation you heard everywhere was this, “Our music was better”. Yes, an unqualified yes.
From silly rock (Who Put the Bop in the Bop Shoo Wop a Dope) to poetry set to music (Carole King, Dylan, Paul Simon, and James Taylor jump to mind) to the music of protest, our music is memorable. In fact, I find it so interesting that most TV commercials that have musical backgrounds use the music from our generation even though we are no longer their target audience.
Perhaps it is a manifestation of growing older. My short-term memory is never as good as my long-term memory has become. My father used to say, “I can remember what happened fifty years ago without a problem. Just don’t ask me what I had for dinner, last night.” Perhaps nostalgia is a retreat into simpler times, when we still believed that anything was possible. Whatever the case may be, my short trips down Memory Lane mean a great deal to me because they remind me of the girl I was and the family and friends I had.