On Nostalgia



I spent my Thanksgiving morning the same way that I had spent all of my Thanksgiving mornings until I was 17 years old. I awoke to the smell of turkey long since in the oven, my mother fretting over whether or not to add mayonnaise to the mashed potatoes, she decided yes, and also worried that the plastic doohickey never worked so she didn’t know if it was time to turn the turkey over. “No mom, it’s not time to turn the turkey over. In fact it never is”, I replied. She looked at me like I was crazy. My dad strolled out of the bedroom with a hand around his waist, holding his pants up of course, because he’s only 78 and God knows by now they should’ve invented something to hold them up! Get on it nerds. Oh and I almost forgot the Macy’s Parade was blaring at full volume in the background. This year’s opening number was Conga, Gloria Estefan’s spicy, Latin groove.

So yes things were going as expected with a few minor changes. I’m 34, in Florida not Massachusetts, and have two little ones of my own running around. Oh and the Russian wife, can’t forget about her. Her name is Dina by the way, a lovely lady, really! Besides those minor details everything was pretty much the same. We were eating our first helping of turkey by 11 a.m. our second and third were soon to follow.

That’s when I got it, that warm feeling of longing. My childhood memories came rushing back. Even the yearly trips that I had made back to my parents’ house through my twenties and up until four years ago when my first Tom-turkey arrived on Thanksgiving morning, these all seemed so special. The National Dog Show was on and my little one kept yelling “dog”. My oldest was riding his shiny new “blue big boy bike” and was announcing it to the world from the confines of the living room. (He like his father loves alliteration.) Yet through this all, I felt sadness. I wondered why? So I thought about it for a while and thought about my memories which though emotionally powerful, were unclear and unspecific. They were generalized tropes, bronzed turkey breasts rising above a cornucopia of mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, potato salad, and arroz amarillo con gandules (Puerto Rican flare. This year we were short one arroz con dulce because my wife convinced my mom that the dish was not necessary, a sin for which she will never be forgiven!)

This is when I really got it. The reason why the memories were unspecific and unclear was because they had been gilded by the soft light of time’s passing. All of the flaws, zits, uneven tones, bags under the eyes, and dog-breath morning yawns had gone the way of those cotton commercials. (Fabric of our lives anyone?) I then thought about the house my wife and I just sold, our first, a 110 year old, beautiful Victorian located in Hartford’s Historic West End, whose original hardwood floors complemented the large fireplaces, ornate crown molding, and hand-carved, built-in cupboards. We traded that beauty for a plain, stock McHouse in a Master Planned Community (to be read, “cookie cutter”) built circa 2002 by the crafty hands of cheap labor and cheaper still Chinese materials.

Wow what a downgrade huh? Sure, that is until I strip away the gold polish and focus the harsh light of truth onto my memories and then I remember how it truly was. You see “original Victorian” anything is a euphemism for old. Oh yeah the house came with its original plaster walls that you couldn’t hang anything on and were constructed of a mixture of asbestos and horsehair. (Either one perfectly fine as long as they remained undisturbed, or so our inspectors and contractors told us.) Neither was worth a damn as insulation though, a fact that we discovered in our first month of owning our dream house. Our heat bill that month, January, was $520 dollars for daring to keep the house at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, at least that portion of the house directly around the vicinity of the thermostat in the aforementioned dining room.

The more I thought about that house yesterday and think about it now as I write, the more I realize just how good I have it in our central-aired McHouse. It makes me wonder how many of my memories are occluded by nostalgia and why I even feel it in the first place? My uneasy admission: fear! Fear of the new, the unknown, the uncomfortable, that’s what it is. When were the “good old days”? Have there ever really been any? I’m guessing the trend for humanity has been towards more, better days, throughout the millennia and despite what you see on TV, there are less “we’re cutting off heads because its Saturday” days than any time in history. That kind of stuff is also driven by fear.

Tomorrow I will wake up and be thankful for the fact that my parents will be here playing with my boys, still dining on Thanksgiving leftovers and appreciate the day for what it is, a blessing. I will leave nostalgia behind where it belongs and get back to the pressing issues of the here and now, like how I can get Santa to bring an early arroz con dulce present this year.

© J. Manuel Writes


Curiouser and Curiouser

Silhouette of a man in a business suit giving a shrug with a question mark

My oldest turns four in a few weeks. It’s been one heavenly ride thus far. I refrain from using the other “h” word even though it’s shorter and more apropos. There are innumerable lessons that I should have learned along the way, that I clearly didn’t, as is evidenced by my second son, who is goosestepping down the same terrible path set by his trailblazing brother. He turns two this week. It isn’t all bad though. I have learned a lesson or two, here and there. Sadly, none included patience or wisdom, ask my wife. No, those prayers have gone unanswered. The big G-O-D must be on another frequency, it’s a big universe after all, some say infinite.

Okay so let me not be too pessimistic. There is at least one thing that I’ve learned in my nearly four years of being a dad, and that is, what it means to be human. Quality over quantity right? Well, how’s that, you say? How do you know that? What does it mean? My response is that you are asking the wrong question. The important question is, “Why?” I misled you, I know.

When my oldest was born, he came into this world fully-hatched. His bright blue eyes were wide open from the start and he moved his head around the room looking for the nearest source of milk. I wasn’t it but he stared at me anyway as if to ask, “Got milk?” We stared at each other until I blinked, he’d seen right through me, and I, the poser, was afraid, very afraid. I wasn’t ready to be a dad and we both knew it. Mom fared much better. She had the milk.

Every day from that point forward, the little man watched, listened, tasted, touched, and smelled, learning, waiting for his moment to verbalize the obvious quandary that was unfolding before my very eyes and to which I was oblivious.


There were no warning shots. It was a direct hit, the first of an endless volley. I tried my best to answer but of course he had a follow-up.


At this point I should tell you that I am an attorney. As the old adage goes, an attorney should never ask a question to which he/she doesn’t already know the answer. He knew the answer and it would only take a couple of more whys on cross-examination to get to it. The answer: I didn’t really know. I acted like, spoke like, and honestly believed that I knew, but I didn’t. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I think I know a lot, but really how much of what I know is just a belief, something I’ve convinced myself about because I grew wary of asking why?

I challenge all of you to take anything that you think you know and tell it to a toddler and see how many whys you can get through before you realize that you don’t actually know what the hell you are talking about. When does this horrible transformation happen to us? When do we lose our way? All toddlers ask why and before that all babies explore their world through trial and error: this tastes good, that tastes bad, I pulled on that, it fell, and that guy who I look nothing like just lost his mind, I guess it was important to him, what’s that crazy dance he’s doing, he’s holding his foot, I can put my foot in my mouth, see.

They are all curious, thirsty for knowledge, something that might go back to a certain woman and a certain tree, an act for which she should be praised. The big guy made her that way right? She did follow the master plan by making her decision to freely choose to eat the fruit, all of which was spurned by her curiosity which was innate…(I’m still asking why here).

The point is curiosity! We all have it but then somewhere along the line we stop asking why and start taking someone else’s word for it, or worse yet, we start taking our own word for it. (That’s called being full of shit and I’m a five pound bag with ten pounds of the stuff!) So why do we stop? Are we afraid of the answers? Are we afraid that we’ll never know for sure? I don’t know. All I know is that as far as I know, and that won’t get you very far, humans are the only creatures on this planet that want to know why. That question is the very essence of who, what, and most importantly, why we are. Maybe one day I’ll have a better answer, then again maybe one day I’ll have my patience and wisdom. Until then, I’ll keep answering my Number One’s questions as best I can and when I’m spent, I’ll turn the tables on him and see what he comes up with. Number Two is closing in fast but I’m not too worried about that because mom ran out of milk a long time ago, so she has some explaining to do.

© J. Manuel Writes