When I say I like old things, I don’t mean antiques. I mean things from my childhood, which took place during that time designers have so kindly labeled “mid-century.” The fact that it’s last century doesn’t bother me; any year from 1950 on sounds modern to me.
Back then, we watched “The Jetsons” and thought we would someday live like that, with robot maids and jetpacks to get us to work. Even though I occasionally wondered about my life when I grew up, it did not occur to me until around 1999 that hey, I would be alive in the 21st century.
My husband can tell you how nostalgic I am for old places, having been subjected a few times too many to the Pam Kress Nostalgia Tour of Davenport, Iowa. We drive past my maternal grandparents’ house, which has been completely refinished, but still sits far back from the street that wasn’t there when the house was built. We look up at my paternal grandparents’ house, which sits on a hill astride the dividing line between the neighborhoods of the middle-class and the rich.
I drive very slowly past the home my I lived in from age five through college, afraid to see any major changes its new owners may have made. After my mother died and I sold the house, I went into that house over and over, in my dreams. Nothing had changed, but even as I slumbered, I knew I was not supposed to be there.
Once, when I was living in Colorado, I talked my first husband into a trip to Colorado Springs, just to see a museum show of how people used to live in the 50s and 60s. The kitchen was outfitted with aqua appliances, chrome toasters, and Fiestaware dishes. The only thing that could get me out of there was the dining room and its table set with original Russel Wright china. Oh! I could have moved right in, if only it had a bedroom and bathroom.
As this year runs down, I look with fondness at the calendar sitting on my work desk. Labeled “Vintage 2013,” it features a different mid-century advertisement each month. Each is straight out of “Mad Men,” which, yes, I’ve been eating up like 7-Up Bars (a candy bar of my youth, sadly discontinued) since it began airing. There’s February’s Hoover with its handy tilt feature, April’s console TV with an early remote control, July’s way-cool radio sheathed in chic Bakelite plastic, and September’s Smith Corona manual typewriter, with the tagline “Your Dream Come True!”
A few months ago, an old friend posted on Facebook a gizmo she’d found at a Des Moines Salvation Army. Called a Mouli Julienne (or, in German, a Schnitzel Mouli), it looked like a manual food processor. The legs were orange plastic, while the interchangeable blades were a shiny chrome. It didn’t take me long to find one on Etsy, and though I’m sure I paid more than did my friend, it didn’t matter.
When the thing arrived (from Germany!), it had no instructions, but they weren’t necessary. I had it set up in no time. It shreds cheese like a dream, so if you need any cheese shredded, just let me know. You know you’ve got a cool kitchen tool when you look for reasons to use it.
My present husband views my love for anything retro with equal parts amusement and alarm. When I announced one day that if I ever win the lottery, I will take the blueprints of my parents’ ranch house to a local builder and have it erected someplace nice, I’m sure he took some comfort in the fact that I do not, as it happens, buy lottery tickets. You can’t win if you don’t play, but oh, how I’d love to live in a clone of my old house, with its fieldstone fireplace, built-in bookcases, and push-out windows, not to mention the electrical outlets anyplace my mother wanted them.
Fall and winter holidays make us more nostalgic than the ones that take place in the spring and summer. Maybe it’s the way we’re cocooned indoors; maybe it’s the heaviness of the food (as opposed to the 4th of July’s hot dogs) that lays down such impermeable memories. Take a look at the Vermont Country Store’s Christmas catalog if you want to see the candy, nightgowns, beauty potions, nutcrackers, and gadgets of the Baby Boomers’ youth. What will they sell when the next generation takes our place? Cabbage Patch dolls, candy necklaces, Apple IIes?
My own Christmas haul this year was heavily laden with nostalgia. My kids gave me books, the kind with pages and dust jackets and beautiful fonts. They gave me CDs, which I’ve heard are already fossils. My husband gave me a Crosley turntable. Yes, it has a USB port for creating digital files, but it plays vinyl! 45s! 78s! 33-1/3s!
Then my daughter handed me her last gift. In that calendar on my desk at work, it’s Miss June: a Princess phone. Not a knockoff with pushbuttons, but a real one with a dial, refurbished by some guy she found on the Web, a handyman who knows we’re out there, longing for the phones of our youth. She plugged it in, and called me from her smart phone. What a ringtone! It lit up, too! Then I sat there joyfully dialing the number my fingers remember from way back when: 324-5869. Nobody answered, but just dialing was enough for me.