The other day, I wrote an editorial titled: “The So-Called Good Old Days” (please see Archives January 9, 2004), which I thought to be a bit of unimportant fluff, since it bore no significant value to me, other than as a piece I just felt like writing.
I was quite surprised when I received several letters concerning this topic, and what I had to say about it. Especially from an American reader (Howard) who lives in New York City.
Howard was upset because I wouldn’t allow him the comfort of nostalgia. And he took exception with what I had to say, since in my mind, those “good old days” weren’t all that good for a great many people. And in his mind, neither is today.
I wrote back to him with a comparison between today and yesterday, with which to prove my point. He wrote back to me, with the observation that I was sanguine about the future.
I read his second letter (response) on Saturday evening, at around 11:20.
Anne and I decided to really splurge three years ago when we moved onto this relatively remote country property. We bought a 61 inch Toshiba television set with all the bells and whistles. We installed a satellite (legal) dish, a huge surround-sound system, theatre lights and laminated movie posters, just like in the theatres. We figured we’d be watching a lot of television given our distance to major centers.
We were wrong. We still don’t watch an inordinate amount of television, since there seems to be more crap than good on the screen. And when we do watch, it’s usually news, or one of the science channels, normally on our 14 inch screen in the kitchen.
But I digress:
We were upstairs in our “theatre room”, about to close everything down at 11:00 o’clock Saturday evening, when I discovered that the movie: “For me and my gal”, which is an old Gene Kelly/Judy Garland musical (1942) was playing on a PBS station.
So instead of going downstairs to turn-in, I stayed upstairs to watch a bit. Anne wasn’t interested, so she volunteered to go out to the barn to give the horses their final feeding of the day (we feed them morning, noon, supper and last thing at night) and make certain that everything was fine.
The nightly ritual includes: Feeding hay, a generous scoop of sweet-feed which is a combination of freshly mixed oats, corn, barley, vitamins, minerals and molasses.
We close the bright barn light, make certain their night-light is on, lower the volume on their radio (they like music), double check that their individual automatic water-feeders work, make certain the heaters are at the right temperature, and verify the speed of the ever running exhaust fan. Then we give the horses some carrots or apples, and make certain they’re physically fine.
This is generally my evening chore (labor of love).
But on this Saturday night, I had no complaints about sitting upstairs in our warm house watching this classic movie, while Anne did my usual task, especially since it was close to minus 40 degrees Celsius outside. And the walk from the house to the barn is about 125 feet.
I’m a real wimp sometimes. But then again, with the wind chill, it’s almost minus 30 degrees Celsius as I’m writing this (7:30 Monday morning). And within a few minutes, I’ll be atop my tractor, exposed to the elements while I scrape the snow off our very long driveways. So there.
But once again, I digress:
As I watched this 1942 production, I saw several things that made me smile. The scripting was pretty hokey, the editing was not very slick, and the staging by today’s standards was very ordinary.
Then there was the talent. I forgot how accomplished the actors, singers and dancers were in the “good old days”. Here were two performers who really could act, sing and dance. All without special effects and synthesisers. They were fabulous.
I also didn’t remember where these tremendous songs came from until I heard them performed in this movie. Watching it was a real treat. It was far better than most of the productions the theatres are charging big money to see today.
At around 11:20, I decided to watch the end of this movie in bed. By this time, Anne had returned from the barn, and was herself getting ready to turn-in. So, before heading for my bedroom, I went to my office and checked to see if there were any new e-mails (something I do last thing every night).
There was one. It was the second e-mail from Howard, my New York reader. His response to my response.
And it hit me. He was right.
There was a great deal that was very bad in the “good old days”. But there was a great deal that was also fabulous. Here I was, reading his letter to me, as I was hurrying to get to my bedroom to see the end of a movie which was produced 8 years before I was born.
I had no right to sully the memories people have of their “good old days”. And I also realized how cynical I have become. It isn’t healthy not to look for the beauty and joy in the world, especially from our past. And in the final analysis, the past is all that we are guaranteed of having.
When I wrote my response to the first letter from New York, I ended it with:
“I certainly didn’t mean to rain on your parade. And this is no letter of apology. I only told it as I see it. If you see it otherwise, good on you”.
I was wrong. I do apologise.
Our memories are very important. Especially the good ones. It took Howard, the New Yorker, and a movie produced in 1942 to remind me of this. I won’t soon forget.