Obviously, the point of this column most weeks is nostalgia. With little effort, I slip into a reverie of the past, fitting together words and phrases to create sentimental recollections eliciting sweet memories of simpler times.
Yearning for yesteryear, however, does not always result in “misty, water-color memories” of how we once lived. There are times when nostalgia asserts itself, when the way we were reaches out and slaps us in the face.
Such was the case a few weeks ago. My mind was wandering through recollections of school way back when I was a school kid myself, memories prompted by a set of classroom-related pictures posted on Facebook by a GHS classmate. Settled in my recliner, my mind likewise reclined into cozy reminisces about the arithmetic facts I saw displayed on an old-fashioned set of flashcards.
My mind and my recliner, however, snapped to their original upright positions with the very next post, this one by a former student – photos under the heading, “Meanwhile, Back in 1999.” When my mind bolted ahead a good forty years at the mere sight of a Trapper Keeper, I realized my nostalgia was in for a bumpy ride.
As I began to compare the two distinctly-divided eras, it seemed that for every fat, black, eraserless pencil used by first-graders years ago, there was a gel pen filled with neon-colored ink a couple of generations later. Unassuming yellow Ticonderoga pencils were eventually accessorized with wild-haired troll doll toppers or completely replaced with mechanical pencils – which before the 90’s I had seen only my father use when he settled up each month with the landlady.
The gold stars affixed to my elementary homework papers indicating outstanding effort had morphed into the scratch-and-sniff stickers my nieces and nephews received as similar praise from their teachers. And the individual classroom “libraries” at Concord School became Graham High School’s centralized library, complete with a cadre of student librarians and a card catalog, all organized by head librarian Tom Rogers – a library that by the 90’s was bursting at the seams.
This roller coaster ride back and forth between two time periods extended well beyond school items. My sisters and I, for example, each had our own set of pop beads and a hula hoop, while my nieces and nephews were more likely to possess a Beanie Baby – or two or ten – as well as adoption papers for a Cabbage Patch doll. My childhood version of Mr. Potato Head, which included facial features to be pushed into an actual spud, seems even more quaint when compared to the video game invasion that arrived in a swirl of Nintendo and Pac-Man and Super Mario and which I have yet to completely comprehend.
Of course, the radical differences between the 1950’s and the 1990’s had as much to do with vantage point as anything. As a kid I wore the sensible saddle oxfords and anklets my mother purchased for me and, as a teenager longed for penny loafers and bobby sox. Years later students clomped into my classroom wearing all manner of sneakers. Their feet were just as often shod in the beach-shoes-turned-street-shoes known as flip flops, and they insisted on wearing plastic jelly shoes even in the dead of winter.
At Concord School, the closest we girls got to wearing any garment approximating trousers was snow pants under our dresses on extra cold days – and all of us called any style of denim pants overalls. Eventually, male and female students alike donned jeans, the particular style of 1999 being wide-legged. And let me just say it was definitely lots less fun to enforce the school dress code than it had been to find ways around it.
Growing up with a black-and-white console television set that beamed just two stations into our living room did little to prepare me for the modern technology of color TV and remote controls. When I babysat, my preteen nephews had to “set” the remote for me before they went to bed! All I knew about 45 records, eight-track tapes, and cassettes became useless information as my students schooled me on CDs and CD players. The music shows of my youth, Your Hit Parade and American Bandstand, reappeared as MTV for the teenagers of the 90’s.
For at least a week my brain bounced uncontrollably from Howdy Doody to SpongeBob, from Father Knows Best to Full House, from tuna noodle casserole to Big Macs, from Barbie’s first appearance to her 40th birthday.
Now I am left considering what we could not have known or imagined in either era, those of us who experienced the last day of the 20th century. We survived Y2K, never imagining how much more computers would come to dominate our lives. Some of us socialized on My Space, never dreaming that Facebook and Twitter were waiting in the wings. We gratefully moved past presidential impeachment, only to see it again grab political headlines. How could we have predicted that the horror of Columbine would become a way of life for 21st century school children? And September 11…
What I now realize is that every Boomer, every Gen Xer, every Millennial, every Gen Zer will eventually experience nostalgia whiplash any time their warm and fuzzy memories of childhood collide with a couple of in-your-face recollections from another time. It is inevitable!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.