Department Of The Joke I Wish Was Not So Spot-On Descriptive
Q. How many Republicans does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None; #45 just says it’s been changed and the rest of them sit in the dark and applaud.
* * *
Department Of The Good Old Days Are More Old Than Good
Why is nostalgia like grammar?
We find the present tense and the past perfect. 
Thanks to the podcast Curiosity Daily, moiself has learned that there is a classification for the nostalgic lens with which my mother viewed the stories of her childhood. In the podcast’s August 13 episode, one of the topics was nostalgia.
Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations…..
Nostalgia’s definition has changed greatly over time. Consistent with its Greek word roots meaning “homecoming” and “pain,” nostalgia was for centuries considered a potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal medical condition expressing extreme homesickness. The modern view is that nostalgia is an independent, and even positive, emotion that many people experience often. Occasional nostalgia has been found to have many functions, such as to improve mood, increase social connectedness, enhance positive self-regard, and provide existential meaning.
( excerpts from Wikipedia entry on nostalgia )
Specifically, the podcast focused on the fact that the folks who study such things (nostal-geologists, as I like to think of them) have classified nostalgia into two types: restorative versus reflective nostalgia.
Restorative nostalgia is when you feel like things used to be better in the past, and you long to relive or even reconstruct the way (you think) that things were. Reflective nostalgia involves recognizing your wistful feelings about how things used to be, and admitting you sometimes long for the old days even as you accept the fact that the past is past and that your perceptions of that past are probably biased.
I had an immediate, visceral reaction to hearing the names and descriptions of the two types of nostalgia; Moiself felt like I’d won a jackpot of sorts, in having a spot-on term for the kind of “looking back” my mother preferred to do.
My mother was quite willing to share her stories of growing up in the small northern Minnesota town of Cass Lake. I frequently asked my parents about their childhoods, as I found their stories entertaining, fascinating, and ultimately revealing (even as I later found out about all of the concealing that was going on). My father was the more skillful storyteller, both in the entertaining way he presented his stories and, as my siblings and I discovered in our adulthood, in his deftness at deflecting or avoiding talking about certain times of his life.  But this space, today, is for my mother’s restorative nostalgia.
As a child I’d observed that adults had this thing for “the good old days.” Although my mother didn’t present her stories with that introduction, the forthright manner in which she presented How Things Were Back Then ® made me astonished by the idea that anyone would pine for the olden days.
Restorative nostalgia: even as that kind of rose-colored-glasses/longing for the past is understandable, I’ve come to believe that it is ultimately not helpful, and can even be damaging. Besides being unreal – you can’t and go back and make things the way they were – restorative nostalgia is, or should be, undesirable, for any rational person. When I have met people who really and truly seem to wish for “the way things were,” I sometimes want to bitch slap them into reality…
…and ask them, Have you fully considered the totality of that “safe space” you think you long for…and would you be willing to take everything else that came with it?
Those “simpler times” for which many people wax nostalgic included the not-so-simple realities of massive (and oft-times life-threatening) racial, gender, and sexual orientation repression and discrimination.
“Wait a minute, Mom – I remember you telling me…” became my unintentional mantra, when it came to listening to my mother’s restorative nostalgia. And after I had pointed out what, in my opinion, needed pointing out, she would respond with a somewhat conciliatory, “Oh yes, well, there was that….”
One day when I was visiting my parents back during the first Gulf War, I brought up the subject of current events. My mother began telling me about how she found herself “pining for” the days of World War II, aka, “The Good War.”
Uh….Mom…those were days when the WORLD was at WAR.
“Oh yes, well, there was that… but, she continued, everyone knew each other in the town, and they all pulled together, and there was a feeling of solidarity….
I tried to validate that for her, then gently asked her if the pulling-together part made up for that awful day when the news came about the small town’s Bright Shining Hope: the Cass Lake High School star athlete and recent graduate, beloved by all and engaged to a local girl, was killed in combat in Europe. The news devastated the town. And didn’t she remember telling me about how horrible it was when the “telegraph truck” drove down Main Street, and when people saw it coming they ran into their houses, as if they could hide from the bad news, as if their shut doors would mean that the notice of a husband/brother/son/cousin who was KIA or MIA or wounded would pass on to another family…. And didn’t she remember telling me how “sick to death” she was by the adults who used the war to excuse their incompetence and blunders that had nothing to do with wartime circumstances, but if you tried to bring it to their attention or ask them to correct their mistakes, they’d sneer at you and say, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?!” and you’d be accused of being unpatriotic if you said anything after that?
“Oh yes, well, there was that….” But things were “simpler” back then, in the old town/small town days, she declared.
Well, maybe, I said…but “simple” doesn’t always equate to better, or even good. And it seems far from simple – it seems complicated, even frightening, to me – to ponder much of what people had to navigate back then.
What would that be, she wondered? She said she liked to remember the simple days, like the time when she and a friend walked back to their respective homes late one night after a school activity – they thought nothing of walking home after dark because they were safe from danger in a small town, and she’s thought of that over the years, when she couldn’t sleep until her own school-age children were home because she worried about us being out after dark….
“But wait a minute, Mom….” you had so many dangers back then that we don’t have now. Maybe you felt safe walking home at dark, but I remember the rest of that story you told me: the very next morning, when you went to your friend’s house to walk with her to school like you did on every school day, you saw the frightening QUARANTINE! sign on her front door. Your friend had been stricken – overnight, seemingly out of nowhere – with polio and was being kept alive by an iron lung, and your parents were almost frantic with fear, thinking you might also be infected. And over the years I’ve heard about children in your small town who were crippled, even blinded and deafened, by diseases for which we now have vaccines and/or cures….
“Oh yes, well, there was that….” But still, she insisted, people were friendlier back then. They pulled together, and put aside their differences to cooperate as equals – being a good citizen meant something, back then.
“But wait a minute, Mom…. The “everyone pulling together” did not, in fact, include everyone. Some citizens were more equal than others. Don’t you remember telling me about “the Indian kids,” who were required by law to go to public school until age 13, after which they all dropped out, and how they all sat in the back of the class and the teachers rarely spoke to them and they never spoke in class? You said, when I asked about their tribal affiliation, that you thought there were “at least two kinds of them,”  but you didn’t know what the “kinds” were – none of the whites did, because they weren’t interested and didn’t bother to find out, even though all the whites in town knew who was Norwegian-American and who was German- or Swedish-American…and that sometimes you felt bad for the Indians because you knew they had gone from being the majority to a minority in their own land….
And you told me about a high school girl who befriended the son of the only Chinese family in town – a family that had to constantly remind everyone during “The Good War” that they were Chinese, not Japanese – but this girl’s parents forced her to stop even speaking with him because they were horrified by the idea that their daughter might want to date “an Oriental”…. and when that Chinese family opened a grocery store because they couldn’t shop at the other stores in town during regular hours  no one patronized their store, and they were unable to make a living and moved to another town….
“Oh yes, well, there was that….” Still, it was so much fun, the carefree high school days, she said, asking me if I remembered her telling me how she got to be lead saxophone player in the marching band (in such a small school in such a small town, if you played an instrument, you got to be in the band) and was valedictorian of her high school? You know, back then, the teachers knew all the students and their families; they took a personal interest in their students, and everyone was so nice….
“But wait a minute, Mom…. What about the fact that your mother had to call the school principal and fight to get you into the physics class, because the physics teacher refused to “waste my time teaching science to girls”? And then, after the principal forced the teacher to accept the two top students in Cass Lake High School – two girls, you and your best friend, Dorothy K – into his class, the teacher refused to speak to you or call on you when you raised your hand, and said openly to you and Dorothy on the first day of class that although it was against his will he’d been ordered to allow them in his classroom, and he grudgingly agreed to teach Dorothy because, “It’s obvious that she will have to work for a living.”
“Oh yes, well, there was that….”
Then, without a modicum of introspection or self-awareness, my mother said, “Oh well, it turned out I never found physics to be very interesting….”
Well, of course not – why would you have?!?!?! You were actively discouraged from being interested in it! The teacher paid no attention to you – he didn’t care if you learned anything. He had to give you an A because you read the required materials, aced all of the tests, and all the other students knew you had the top grade in the class.
And what about the way your best friend, Dorothy K, was treated? Because she was “disfigured” – a botched forceps delivery damaged her facial muscles, causing the right side of her face to droop, as if she’d had a stroke – Dorothy was raised to accept the “fact” that because she lacked the most important feminine asset – a pleasing face – no man would ever want to date, much less marry her, and that she would need to make her own way in the world…in a world where the same men who would not consider her romantic partner material were also predisposed to not consider her their intellectual or professional equal….
“Oh yes, well, there was that….”
And that job you had, after your junior college graduation: you worked as a secretary at the post office, and you said it drove you nuts, how the clerk was so incompetent and you often ended up doing his duties (but of course you didn’t get paid for doing so), and you knew you could do the job better but when you asked the manager you were told that, as a woman, you weren’t eligible to even apply for such a position…and how you were saving up your money to buy a car, but as soon as you were married you had to quit your job, because a married woman couldn’t work at the post office….
“Oh yes, well, there was that….”
and that…and that…and that…and that….
The incidents – read: life – my mother told me about…how do I explain this? She never told those stories as examples of hardship or discrimination. She presented them matter-of-factly, and often seemed to be befuddled by how gob-smacked I was to hear them. To her, that was just the way things were; I heard the between-the-lines details – hardship and fear, racism and discrimination – that didn’t even, technically, require me to read between the lines, as they were, to me, glaringly overt…even as those details were, to her, not the point of her stories.
* * *
Department Of Dorothy Is Not In Kansas Anymore
I met my mother’s friend, the afore-mentioned, legendary (to moiself ), Dorothy K, only once. I was in college, home for a visit, and my mother excitedly told me that her friend Dorothy was returning to the States after her latest overseas trip, and had arranged to take a flight to LAX. My parents picked up Dorothy at the airport and brought her to their house, where she stayed overnight until she caught a flight back to her home. 
I was somewhat enthralled with the idea of Dorothy: over the years, I’d heard about how she was a chemist, made good money, and spent her free time travelling around the world. When I finally met her I remember thinking how attractive I found her to be – she had “good bones,” and I couldn’t help but wonder how her life would have been, sans that incompetent doctor forceps mishap.
Part of my enthrallment came via comparing her life to my mom’s. Moiself (ungraciously, I know) saw my mother as a staid homemaker, someone who worked all day but never got paid and who had never been anywhere except for Cass Lake and Santa Ana. And here is her friend, with a career in science, who travels the globe….
I later thought of the ironies of Dorothy’s life, including the fact that the characteristic which made her “damaged goods” in the eyes of her culture is also what allowed her to go to college and work in fields that were closed to women in that time. Her disfigurement essentially neutered her in the eyes of males; thus, she presented no threat of “distraction” (i.e., of them being sexually attracted to her). Although I’ve little doubt that she faced discrimination (she shared a few stories with me, about always being the only woman in her department), it was as if she were a third gender: since men didn’t see her as a woman she was less of a threat to male colleagues, in terms of them having to consider that they were being equaled, or even bested, by a woman.
My mother (privately, years after Dorothy’s visit) admitted to me that she sometimes wondered what it would like to be Dorothy, whom she saw as independent and carefree. And I wondered, is that how Dorothy saw herself? Considering the culture she was raised in, instead of fully embracing her life – her career and the intellect she was allowed to develop – did she ever compare herself to, say, my mother? Did she in any way envy my mother for having a husband and children – for having the life Dorothy was told would not be possible for her, even as it was the only/ultimate/proper life to which a girl was supposed to aspire? Or, did she look at my mother’s life and find it…tedious, and limited?
Such questions haunt me, whenever I think of Dorothy. I wish I could ask her, but she died several years before my mother did. I can only hope that whatever nostalgia Dorothy dabbled in, that it was reflective, and brought her satisfaction.
* * *
Pun For The Day
You know what seems odd to me?
Numbers that aren’t divisible by two.
* * *
May your nostalgia be reflective;
May you live in the present with your eyes open; 
May you change the damn lightbulb when it needs changing;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Couldn’t find attribution for this old pun.
 In last week’s post, I mentioned a few of them. My father died not knowing his adult children had found just how poor (and dysfunctional) his family was, and that he’d never graduated (nor even attended) high school because his father forced all his children to drop out of school at age 13. And when I found this out, some missing pieces fell into place; I realized that all the stories Dad had told about his youth, to his children, were carefully told to hide those details. For example, we’d made assumptions that the job he talked about having “after school” was part-time, when in fact he was working fulltime, when his peers were in school, and we never put the pieces together to realize that the school stories he’d shared were all pre-high school….
 The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe were “two kinds” of indigenous tribes which had settled in the Cass Lake area, centuries before Europeans arrived.
 One grocer let the Chinese family shop at his store early, before regular hours, so that the other (white) families wouldn’t see them.
 …to wherever that was for her. I cannot remember; it was in some larger city. She’d left Cass Lake to go to college, and only returned to that small town to visit her parents, who remained there until their deaths.
 Even when it too often involves holding your nose (think: #45 and his primeval toadies) and wishing for a fast track time machine to the future