Ah, the good old days... weren't they grand? The good old days bring back wonderful memories of lazy summers, fast cars, letterman jackets, and blissful nights... don't they? If I could look through the picture window of your life, would I see you sitting around the dinner table with ma and pa, chewing on your Leave-it-to-Beaver world where all was well... easy... perfect?
That's not how it was back then?
So were the Good 'ol Days really good?
Well, I suppose for some, life has been a bucketful of roses. And I suppose there's plenty of middle ground where folks had their feast and other days when they had their famine. Still, as I've considered the different time periods often thought of as "The good old days" such as the 1800's, the roaring '20s, the 50's, the 80's, and so on, I find myself tripping over huge obstacles that leave me wondering if those days were all they were cracked up to be. Or, perhaps we've chosen to idealize history to help us deal with the present, to put our lives into perspective.
I've been thinking about this lately because I recently spent a lot of time researching the late 1950's for my book, The Secret Tree, co-authored with my friend, Patrick Bousum. And I admit, I always thought that the world was nicely wrapped in a tidy red bow during that time, based on the images presented through iconic movies, newspaper clippings, and magazines.
However, when I think about the Civil War and all the families that lost their fathers, sons, brothers and sisters in that awful blood bath, I have to question our definition of the good old days. I think about the long days and unsafe work environments during the 1920's and the men and women who died on the job, while this country grew rich off their labor. I think of the girls that were once raped and then judged as whores because it was her word against his. I think of the civil injustices that took place throughout America's history. I think of the boys who were raped by priests and lived their entire life in pain and silence because that's what you did back then. I think of the soldiers who died in, WWI, WWII, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Iraq War... Afghanistan. I think about 911, Columbine, Sandy Hook... Boston.
Shall I go on?
Keep in mind. These were the good old days for some. Or were they? Is there really such a thing? There are good memories... good times... a happy childhood... and there is prosperity, an often generalized term used when life is good. Yet, if you could watch a film of my life, your neighbor's life, or the six-year old girl that lives on my street who often comes to school reeking of marijuana, you'd have a much different perspective, I think.
In 1959, the world was introduced to Barbie. She was a hit---a real splash! She was perfect. She capped off a period in time that was idealized in the eyes of many who grew up in that decade.
But for some of the children of that generation, whose fathers suffered terribly from injuries and/or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), life was never the same. Life was hard.
I didn't grow up in "The good old days". I grew up in the 1970's, and have fond memories of that time, even though I vividly recall the racial tension and violence that raged in Saginaw, Michigan where I lived until 1978.
As stormy as life can be, I also know that the good old days were good. In 1959, folks needed fewer things. Segregation was diminishing. Families were generally intact. What you didn't have, you either learned to live without, or you made it yourself. Folks felt safer. Kids created their own entertainment and played outside more. You knew your neighbors. We had a collective moral conscience--a moral compass. We complained less. We respected our elders. We trusted our government (for the most part). We filed fewer lawsuits. Soldiers, preachers, and teachers were respected. We did what was right. The worst offenses in school were chewing gum and skipping class. We pledged our allegiance to this great nation and we prayed in school damn it!
What happened to the good old days?
Have they Gone with the Wind, or are they still among us?
And does the time in which we live have anything to do with the quality of our lives anyway?
Life, in my opinion, is good. It's always good. It's short, and as beautiful as we make it. So if you have memories worth keeping, or even if you don't, I think you'll like The Secret Tree, a book about a boy who has to fight to find the good in his life. From Andy Harper's perspective (the protagonist), 1959 was filled with dangerous secrets, crazy-eyed mobsters, and a one-handed witch.... but he had his family and friends at his side, helping him through the worst life had to offer.
Sometimes, remembering the best part of life, the good old days, is what makes life worth living.
Jeff Bennington is the best-selling author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance, the Creepy series, and The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe.