Tag Archives: nostalgia

Remember This? The Idyllic World of “To Kill a Mockingbird”


Sometimes I get the urge to house hunt. I go to open house events and savor the dream of owning my own house one day. And sometimes I wonder just what it is I’m looking for, what I’m attracted to, what I’m not, and where my preferences come from.

One of my favorite movies from childhood is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Although a 1963 film, it’s set in Depression-era Alabama. As a young boy raised in Maryland during the sixties, for some reason, I sensed the days depicted in the film were “better” than the contemporary times I lived in. It was just my reaction to the film when I watched it.

Visiting various open houses last weekend here in Santa Fe, I walked away several times feeling empty. Where were the rose gardens in the front yards? Where were the people mingling in the street, walking to and fro? Where were the houses adorned with porches and stoops and sidewalks welcoming visitors to the front door?

Cue: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Oh my God, the image of my perfect house is exactly what I viewed in “Mockingbird.” Could I have held on to this image of hallowed house and home for so long?

Yes. That’s exactly the image I still yearn to see. After watching a DVD of the movie later that house-hunting day, I realized I wanted not just the houses, but the streets, the people, the neighborhood, the community – even cranky old Mrs. Dubose. Call me corny, but I still crave the Maycomb, Alabama, I saw in “Mockingbird” with its white, wooden houses and green grass lawns, and apparently have all my life.

Cue: the documentary on “To Kill a Mockingbird” enclosed inside the DVD case. No, the Maycomb in “Mockingbird” was not filmed in Maycomb. It was not even filmed in the South. In fact, it wasn’t a real town, but a movie set. Every house was constructed from scratch and the street built on a Hollywood back lot. What? My entire image of house and home is –  and was – built upon the foundation of a movie set, flats and scene designers handy work?

I viewed “Mockingbird” one more time. Yep – a suspicion come true. Upon closer inspection, beyond the beautiful hickory trees adorning Maycomb’s main street where Scout, Jem and Atticus lived was the beautiful Alabama Mountain Range (er, the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Hollywood). Boy, had I been duped. As a child, even an adult, I never thought to question whether Alabama had big mountains. Or I consciously didn’t want to.

And that’s the power of film, and specifically “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It took us to a quieter time in America. It also took us to a period where discrimination and ignorance were far more prevalent. In teaching his children to face prejudice in the eye, Atticus Finch tried to construct an uplifted community, not just one surrounded by the idyllic trappings of a world surrounded by white picket fences. For all these reasons, they made an irresistible world to me.

Cue: a sense of reality. I guess I can abandon the idea of house hunting in rural Alabama some day. And what have I been thinking here in Santa Fe: rose bushes, pitched roofs, green grass – in New Mexico?

I’ll just have to return to the movie and the Alabama of my mind for that house (and all the nostalgia that went with it).

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Remember This? Roget’s Thesaurus

Quote of the day: Everything in the world is good for something. –– Dryden.

Roget illustration 001bPeter Roget is God, kind of. What would I do today without my 1961 edition of Roget’s International Thesaurus? It was a present given to me by my mother for completing my Lutheran confirmation classes.

At the time, after sweating through those confirmation classes, I asked, “Is this all I get, a book with a billion words and only one picture, a sick, sepia-toned print of the author, some guy named Roget?” Looking at his picture, all I saw was a stiff, scholarly guy staring back at me with an expression that said only one thing, “I am smarter than you will ever be.”

Unimpressed with Roget, for nearly a decade, his thesaurus was put to better use as a prop to hold up makeshift shelves in the living room that my precious TV sat on.

But one day, years later, when I needed to find a synonym for “lazy,” I slid Roget out, dusted him off, and life hasn’t been the same since. No more using “lazy” when there’s “dilatory, slack, shiftless, and lazy as Ludlam’s dog” around. I look at Roget now and give praise. What other gift could keep on giving like his thesaurus?

The answer is J.I. Rodale’s 1361-page synonym finder. I’ve been confirmed to the next level, and Rodale’s compilation of synonyms is the best around today.

Even still, I have Roget’s Thesaurus by my side. His book not only contains synonyms, precious American slang and colloquialisms, but is full of ancient, foreign and modern quotations at the bottom of each page. In fact, that’s where I found the quotation by Dryden for this post: Everything in the world is good for something. However, I could have found better use for Roget’s masterpiece than as some prop to elevate the almighty TV set on. How slack, lax and negligent.

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Remember This Guy? Chef Boy-Ar-Dee

047_ATT304848 (1)As a kid, I assumed this handsome Italian chef guy made all the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee brand spaghetti personally. I visualized him stirring a huge vat of it in a factory somewhere around Gary, Indiana, the factory capital of the US. But even as a four-year-old, I knew Chef Boy-Ar-Dee wasn’t great spaghetti.

Regardless, I learned one very important thing from Chef B-A-D: the taste difference between “canned” food and fresh. Unfortunately, Mom – head chef in our house – preferred canned spaghetti (and peas, corn, beans, Spam, potted meats, etc.) Tin-encased foods represented one less meal she had to prepare from scratch over a hot stove. (Mom took this to the hilt in retaliation for too many other housewife responsibilities. Read more about it in the introduction to Chapter Three, “Revenge,” from my memoir, Maybe Boomer.)

Actually, the Chef Bor-Ar-Dee people are still around, but have a new guy modeling as Chef. I’ve gone to a health food diet in my adult years and kind of miss the old Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, even his Beefaroni and Spaghetti & Meatballs. Do you? Or do you still (secretly) crank out the can opener for an occasional comfort food hit?

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Remember This? Army Men

001_ATT222 (1)Army men were the bomb – my most explosive nostalgia memory. I had all kinds – Civil War army men, Revolutionary War army men and WWII army men. For years, I enjoyed placing my toy miniature plastic soldiers in fresh war scenes concocted in the dirt battlefields of my backyard.

But, as I got older, there came a time when my revered toy troops needed to be reinvented, recycled. My middle school friend, Paul, showed me how – by burning them. Oh, the seductive, searing sound that drops of molten plastic make when they drip to the ground!

But playing with fire proved far too tempting for my comrade and I one afternoon. Dousing the heads of the army men in gas, then the grass below, the gas can accidentally caught on fire. The rest of the story is chronicled in my memoir, Maybe Boomer (although you can read more about kindling friendships in the introduction to Chapter Five, Friendship”).

Did anyone else out there nearly burn their house down by accident?

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Baby Boomers, Exclusion and Ex Lax

Quote of the day: If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.–– Thoreau

Welcome to my blog. This is my inaugural post, and thanks for being a part of it. I want my blog to be a place where you and I share our thoughts and creative endeavors together.

Diner2 1200 BLOG res 48 bit color thumb003I took the photo of this billboard on a chilly winter night in Bethesda, Maryland, sometime back in the eighties. Whenever I look at that large piece of nostalgia now, with the smiley, happy family sitting in the front seat, I say how phony. Life wasn’t really like that back then, was it? It wasn’t for me. In fact, “There’s no way like the American Way” came across more like, “It’s our way or the highway, young man.”

The billboard scene was not too far off from my own family experience. (After all, if you look closely, you’ll see it’s not me sitting cozily between Mom and Dad in the front seat, but my sister, forever the middle child, with her own set of problems. I was probably stuck in the back scrunched between my two older brothers – twins – with their own matching set of problems.) From the very beginning of life, I felt excluded and different from everyone. It was like I wasn’t even in the car at all, left behind at High’s Dairy Store after we’d gotten our weekly allotment of milk, Wonder Bread and Ex Lax.

With all this angst, I had to write a memoir. It’s called Maybe Boomer, my story of what it’s like to not fit in, and not just with my family, but the entire baby boom generation at large for many reasons.

When I took the photo of the diner on that cold night thirty years ago, I was just beginning to let creativity click into my life. More and more “clicks” went off: from the camera shutter, my chalk pastels hitting the drawing paper, my guitar pick tapping upon strings, and most recently, the computer keys clicking away day and night. They’ve all been essential stepping stones to lead me down a path that is mine, truly mine. Art was my salvation. Read more about my thoughts on creativity in Excerpts, “Chapter 7,” from Maybe Boomer. You can also see some of my creations (works on paper, music, photography and film) in My Art.

I invite you to check my blog regularly where we can explore our stories together. What kept you from feeling a part of your generation?  Are you a baby boomer who didn’t fit in with what was going on around you? How did you come to peace with that, if at all?

And, if nothing else, does anyone else remember seeing those billboards?

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Remember This? Travel – Corvair Style

 

What a hunk of nostalgia these cars were.

When the sleek Chevy Corvair first hit the 60s’ roadways, I thought it was cool. It was a far better car than some of the other wrecks around at the time, such as the Studebaker Lark and Rambler American. Like the spiffy new Mustang and Corvette introduced recently, would I like Corvairs as much?

The only Corvair I saw around our Silver Spring, Maryland, neighborhood was driven by the mother of a girl from my sixth grade class I had a big crush on. This little excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer (Chapter 10, “Girls”), explains it:

Then Mary came along in sixth grade. She was one of the first to present breasts in our class, although they were always difficult to corroborate with falsies so prevalent at this age. I really liked her, but she was one of those girls who did everything with her mother. What good was showing off a nice bust after school if your mother was always there? Maybe Mary didn’t like her breasts. Did I want a girl like that? The only thing she ever flaunted was the new, chocolate milk-colored Chevy Corvair her mother chauffeured her around in.

Of course, after I was eventually dumped by Mary, I knew I hated all Corvairs everywhere.

But I got the last laugh only five years later when Corvairs filled landfills across the country. Were Corvairs really that bad a car to travel in?

 

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