August 19th, 2010
The past fascinates, informs and challenges. What actually happened there, and why, can also confuse, irritate and be pretty inconvenient. That's why we very often turn the past into nostalgic journeys to pleasant places. Nothing wrong with that if that's your trip, unless you start to believe the tripping is reality.
For instance, Texas has rewritten the past to suit their present political purposes and called that fiction fact in the schools' history books.
The past has much to teach us. The first lesson is you can't get past reality and get anywhere real.
As published in The Daily News, August 20, 2010, and in The Memphis News, August 21-22, 2010
Learn. Don’t return.
I swear by my Roy Rogers chuckwagon, if just one more Boomer emails me about going back to the terrific fifties, I’m going to upchuck. Then I’m going to freeze up your AC, microwave your 45’s, throw a rotary-dial phone through your flat screen, cancel your cell, and … very first thing … gag your Google.
No, those little paraffin Coke bottles with the sugar swamp water in them weren’t terrific, and neither was watching Perry Como in fuzzy pastels and everything else in black-and-white. Those were just new things, things that aren’t around anymore because things got better.
No, sweating through Memphis summers sucking attic fan air through bug-covered screens wasn’t a charming memory, a toughen-up exercise, or a life lesson. It was just hot. Can’t breathe, can’t move, somebody-turn-on-the-sprinkler hot.
Okay … yes … the 1955 T-bird was terrific.
The reason you thought everything was terrific in 1955? YOU WERE FIVE YEARS OLD.
In the summer of 1955, I believed in Santa Claus, Elvis was dating the girl next door, I had just learned how to whistle, and I was starting the first grade. It was terrific. I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD.
My parents, on the other hand, were getting over McCarthy, contemplating a bomb shelter in the backyard, figuring out what to do without Mr. Crump doing everything, and raising three kids in my grandmother’s house.
The city they lived in was actually two cities, one black and one white, and they no more shared their lives and opportunities than they shared their schools, restaurants, water fountains or public bathrooms.
And in the backyard hammock, they could feel the post-war breeze as Atlanta blew by taking the lead from us as the South’s major city.
In 1980, I merged my ad agency with another in order to survive and the economy was taking a double-digit beating in the “misery index,” but our daughter was a star in senior kindergarten. Life was terrific. In 1986, I started a new business and put everything we had at risk, but our son hit his very first home run playing T-ball. Life was terrific. THEY WERE FIVE YEARS OLD.
Nostalgia, always positive and selective, can be fun and comforting. It can’t be a destination. Don’t long to go where you can’t go, long to make where you’re going better.
In 1955 and now, Memphis was and is loaded with potential. Then and now, Memphis should have and still can serve as a model for the whole country in addressing diversity and unity. Looking back for what we might learn from the things we can still love and celebrate, and from the mistakes we made, can help fuel our way forward. Actually going back just puts us behind.
As a Billy Joel lyric reflected, “The good ole days weren’t all that good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.”
Let’s make tomorrow terrific.
I’m a Memphian, and I remember Merrymobiles. Now, let’s just please get on with it.