I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking and talking about “the good old days”, years gone by when everything seemed so much simpler, so much happier. A mythic period in time that I’ve realized isn’t as static as it used to be.
My friend Chris is in the process of moving his family overseas, a military posting in Europe doubling the already large distance between us and leading to a number of phone calls that we both wish we’d been making all along. We’ve over thirty years of memories together but our “good old days” are the mid 1980s. Days of tree forts, Little League and all day bicycle rides. We listened to Def Leppard and Run DMC, watched Top Gun and played RBI baseball. I traded him my baseball cards for his comic books. We shoveled horse shit and hauled hay bales at our friend’s horse farm for Big League Chew money and loved every minute of it.
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with my other friend Chris this past weekend, also living in another part of the country now but in town for a few days visiting family. It didn’t take more than a few beers before conversation turned to the early 1990’s. Nights spent driving around, looking for girls, Ozzy’s “No More Tears” album on regular rotation. We had our first loves, our first heartbreaks and our first tattoos but had yet to get our first clue about what life was really about. We bagged groceries and stocked shelves for beer and gas money but somehow still spent our weekends shoveling horse shit and hauling hay at our friend’s horse farm on weekends. We loved every minute of it.
My wife’s birthday was also this past week. I’m smart enough not to tell you how old she is, but we had a nice night out at a restaurant/bar that we hadn’t been to in quite a few years. Its far from our current home, closer to the house that I owned when we first met. She worked nights then, her mother watching the daughter I’d yet to meet, and often would choose to spend the night there instead of driving back to her own home, a five minute drive as opposed to forty five. This was done purely to save on gasoline of course.
They were late nights. We’d tape Nip/Tuck and South Park on VHS tapes to watch after work or play pool in my basement until the sun came up. More often than not we’d just sit outside on a rickety picnic table, talking under the stars and playing Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban loud enough for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. We hadn’t met each other’s friends or family, co-workers had no idea that we were together. It was illusion, a shared fantasy that there was no outside world to bother us, but it was a moment in time over a decade ago that I sometimes miss and I know that she does too.
It’s not just something that us adults feel. A few mornings ago my daughter asked if I could make her a chocolate milk and sit on the couch with her as I drank my coffee, like “we used to do.” When she’s overtired and emotional she tells me that she misses the days before school when we could play together all day long. Six years old and she already has her own version of “the good old days.”
It’s easy to understand how we fall into this trap, this romanticizing of the past. Memories can be malleable, molded into whatever we want them to be. Bits and pieces can be chosen, others tossed aside. The future is scary, unknowable. We tell ourselves to “stay in the moment” but that moment is slippery, a part of our past before we’re able to firmly grasp and appreciate it.
There’s a balance that needs to be found, one that isn’t always easy to find. An ability to look back and smile at where we’ve been, appreciate where we are, and look forward to what’s to come. In 1983 Billy Joel sang that “the good old days weren’t always good, tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” I listen to these lyrics as I sit in my backyard, enjoying my home and loving all those that inhabit it. I’m drinking a Zima and remembering when this was my drink of choice, something that wouldn’t be smelt on my breath when I returned home, hopefully before curfew. Like most things nostalgic it’s nowhere near as good as I recalled it being.
I think about “the good old days” and am thankful that there are so many different times in my life that this term can now apply to. I hope that I’m blessed with many more.