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

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