On a trip over the mountains en route to my father’s house, I had to cycle through a number of radio stations as I quickly lost range over and over again. On the way down into the valley, I was able to settle on one station in particular. It was playing music that had been popular in the ‘80s. A few of the songs I heard carried strong feelings of nostalgia – memories of my years in Junior High and High School. Whenever I hear those songs, I can’t help but recall those happy times and wish that I could return to those simpler days.
Simply being in my hometown at all can bring back those memories. During this last year, when I was unemployed and assisting my father, I would take his checks to the bank to be deposited in his account. I would walk in order to get some exercise, since the bank was only about six blocks away. As I walked that distance, I would pass many things that would stir my memory.
Down at the end of the street I would pass the house of a childhood friend where I spent much time in play. Now it is covered with obscuring trees and bushes, and I can’t see into it at all. Turning and walking farther down the road I would come across the public pool. Hot midsummer days in the Central Valley of California made such a place a haven for kids throughout town. Now it has fallen into disuse, its windows broken and its stained pool empty.
Going farther I would pass the public library. I loved books and spent much time perusing the shelves, and since it is at the edge of the town’s main park, I spent a lot of time around its exterior during my youth. Beyond the library would be the overpass, a long concrete serpent coiling up from the edge of the park before it sprang across the street in an arc. How many times did my little feet pass over that thing?
It is beyond that overpass where the brunt of my memories lie. On the right is the elementary school I attended as a child. A building that squats against the parking lot has a colorful mural painted on its wall. I know that mural well. I should; as a child I helped color it in. I can only wonder these days if the current students can ever appreciate that mural as much as I still do, being a part of its creation.
Across the street is the Junior High School that I attended – only now it’s an elementary school. When I look at that campus, I can pinpoint the window of my science classroom on the main building. I can remember being in line to the cafeteria, one of the tallest kids in school, and waving to my sister across the crowd, since she also was taller than most of the other kids. Yes, I can remember all sorts of good things about my time in that school.
I can also remember bad things. Being picked on, struggling to keep up when we ran laps out on the field, etc. Which makes my nostalgia about those songs I mentioned earlier a little baffling. Yes, those songs make me remember my mid to late teen years, but the only time I ever heard them was during dances. I hated dances. I can’t think of one good memory that came from a school dance. I was awkward, shy, and pretty much a wallflower. Those were not happy moments, yet the songs somehow make me yearn for those days.
I think maybe I tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses. When my life is particularly boring or annoying, I think back to a better time, when I was younger, when life was simpler, when I didn’t have the problems I have now. But if I actually went back to that time period, do you know what I would probably be doing? Looking back on the prior phase of my life with just as much longing and thinking how much better I had it back then.
When I got a job again after my recent unemployment, I moved to a town I had never lived in before. I knew nobody, and I had to start fresh. I constantly wished I could go back to the city I lived in when I was previously employed. I loved that town. I had deep roots there. It wasn’t my hometown, but I had lived there for the better part of about twenty years. I’ve been missing it ever since I had to leave. I had some of the best times of my life there – and some of the worst.
Dwelling on my time there has turned out to be very counterproductive. It takes away from my establishment of roots here and now. On the road trip that is my life I would much prefer to be the driver than a passenger, but if I am to drive I must rid myself of distractions. Like the recent ads decrying texting and driving that I have been seeing on television, focusing on the past, or even on a desired but far away goal, risks distracting me from the current journey. I might miss my turn and steer myself in the wrong direction. Even worse, my inattention might cause me to crash into something, upending my life’s journey unnecessarily.
Memories are wonderful things, and indulging in nostalgic flights of fancy once in a while is harmless. But the past was just as hard for me as the present is. I didn’t know what to do then, and I don’t know what to do now. All I know is that I survived to this point, and maybe I’ll survive a little longer if I pay attention. Why, I might even look back on this time when I’m eighty years old and wish I could go back to the “good old days.”