My dress sense was exceptional, even back then.

My fav cowgirl combo, with white tights and panda shoes, circa 1969

Nostalgia is a funny thing. I find, as I age, it becomes funnier still, or perhaps curiouser and curiouser is a more apt phrase. With some regularity these days, my long-term memory tosses up random files from the Life Narrative archives, in the Ancient History vault of my brain.

 

Of course, if we are honest with ourselves, Freud and I both know that this memory selection-process is not random at all. These moments of reverie are triggered by my present life looping back to my past in subtle but poignant ways. Sometimes, it’s the way sunlight slices through a room at a particular time of day; or the texture of a shirt I’ve dug out of my closet, that’s still wrinkled from its last wear; or the feel of a sandy wind blowing across my face, on a certain patch of beach, at high tide.

 

In a low-rent version of Proust’s experience with his Madeleine, I recently bit into a saltine and was overwhelmed by a memory of my grandfather, whose favourite late-night snack was a tall stack of crackers that he would crunch up, drown in a glass of cold milk, and then down with a spoon. As a little girl, I would watch as he added the crackers one by one to make a tower on the table. It was marvellous to me to realise that a grown up could indulge in personal ritual with the same profound dedication and seriousness that we kids relished in our daily lives.

 

Then as now, kids knew implicitly that there were rituals governing every aspect of life, and that they had to be followed down to the last detail. No child I knew ate an Oreo without contemplating the best method of doing so, or jumped into bed without first judging which of his or her toys should sleep nestled under the covers, and which resting on pillows.  All of this mattered. So I understood my Grandpa, and I appreciated that, once the crushing of the crackers was done, he always had a spoon ready for me, too.

 

As I know is true for many people, recalling the past can fill me with a deep yearning for relationships, places, and times that are lost to me now. Most of us recognise that this is a form of both honouring and grieving our personal histories, and that it’s perfectly healthy, unless we become so mesmerised by visions of Then that we are unable to tolerate the unfolding Now.

 

One surprising outcome from my own sentimental journey is my renewed emotional relationships with people/places/things that I once loved, then stopped loving, and then started loving again just recently. It does not matter that I apparently did not love them enough back then to maintain the connection; or even that, in some cases, I discarded them as rubbish (not the people, certainly, but many of the things). They have acquired a sense of value and meaning to me, upon reflection, that I may not have granted them at the time, but which makes me appreciate them now more than ever.

 

Thanks to such Modern Marvels of the Universe as eBay and … well, eBay …  (Is there anything else like eBay? If so, I can’t think of it)  … I have a shot at owning them again – or, at least some of them. Sadly, much of what I miss is unlikely ever to show up at auction. 

Things that I miss and that I cannot buy on eBay, but wish that I could: 

  1. My best friend from kindergarten.
  2. The cowgirl outfit and panda slippers I am wearing in the feature photo (because my four-year-old niece would    look adorable in them).
  3. The delicate silver-and-diamond love heart ring my mother gave me when I was 14, which had been a gift to her from her own mother, and which I lost within a year.
  4. My unicorn collection that I cultivated c. 1974-1979.
  5. An original – yet mysteriously still fresh – set of the Bonne Bell Lip Smackers  that we girls (and maybe some boys, too) enjoyed back in Jr. High School, which constituted about half our daily dietary intake. Back then, these lip balms came in thick glass cylinders with decorative plastic coating and rolly ball applicators, which contained goo in assorted flavours – strawberry, apple, watermelon, bubblegum, cinnamon, et al.
  6. My black Steve Madden pumps, c. 1990.
  7. My cat, who lived to be 18 but then had to be euthanised due to kidney failure.
  8. Every dog I ever owned.
  9. Texas. So I could move it closer to Australia. 

I could add other things, but that would make this a very sad list indeed. Besides, some things are best left on that very private list of personal regrets and losses that we all carry inside us. 

Things that I can buy on eBay, or purchase from iTunes, or download free, which make me smile, even though I can hear you judging me: 

Valley of the Vapours, by Janet Dailey (1977) Harlequin Presents

Valley of the Vapours, by Janet Dailey (1977) Harlequin Presents

  1. Original editions of old books. That may sound like a serious and refined pursuit, but I have to admit that fine literature  is not what I am scrounging the internet for these days.  I have discovered that you can buy vintage Harlequin Romances cheap, cheap, cheap! I used to read these in junior high school instead of doing things like Math and Geography. In my most impressionable years, I was learning all I could about life and love from fictional people named Alexis, Drake, Tamsin and Chase, and from writers who used far too many adverbs. (Actually, the story of my life could be distilled entirely from that single statement.) Unfortunately, I never learned to multiply fractions, and I cannot locate the U.S. on a world map; but hey, it was worth it. I am planning on snuggling these right up next to my Nancy Drew collection.
     
  2. Music that my parents loved. When I was a child, my father was a Country and Western man, and to some degree, so was my mother (except for the man part), which meant that music worked as a family bonding ritual for many years – those same years that my older sister and I believed the variety show Hee-Haw to be the nadir of artistic acheivement. Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Hanks Sr. and Jr., Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones were familiar voices in our home. But the music changed over time, and we went our separate ways.  We all knew that inside my mother beat the heart of an ex-jitterbug queen (which she was), and so it came as no real surprise when, towards the end of my parents’ 18-year marriage,  she abandoned C&W for disco. It had a great beat, and boy-oh-boy, could she dance to it! She was still in her thirties then, so quite up for the challenge. I don’t believe she ever looked back after the D-I-V-O-R-C-E. By then, I was all into Pat Benatar. I don’t recall what my older sister was listening to, but my younger sister was still devoted to Romper Room. Only Dad stayed true to his country roots. And those songs we used to play will always remind me of when we were very young.
     
  3. All sorts of other stuff that I don’t need. Actually, it’s stuff that no one in the world needs,  in any practical sense, but which (when artfully arranged) can be snootily referred to as  a “collection” rather than a “bunch of old junk.” This includes, but is not limited to: vintage novelty toys such as Pet Rocks and Sea-Monkeys; vinyl records of girl groups like the Shangri-Las, the Dixie Cups, and The Ronettes; vinyl collections of novelty songs by Ray Stevens et al.; cheap souvenirs from places my own family never visited, given to us by families whose travels extended beyond San Antonio and Galveston; and even special boxes labelled “keepsakes” for small things which serve no other purpose than to be kept. 

It may be kitsch, but it’s kitsch that reminds me of home and self, as I once knew them, just as my Texas charm bracelet does. Growing up in Texas, all I ever wanted was to be somewhere else, but there are days now when I long for a walk in a field of blue-bonnets, and when the little armadillo dangling from my wrist makes me a bit weepy. I love these things without drollness or irony, and I take my nostalgia where ever I find it.