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Oldie, 6/18/08: Anti-Nostalgia

Note:  I originally posted this on my old blog, which I'm in the process of shutting down. I'll be copying and reposting some of my "greatest hits" from 2008-2010.

There's a commercial on the radio for Blue Bell Ice Cream - you've probably heard it - where a man sings soulfully about "our old swimmin' hole" and "Mama called through the porch screen door, would y'all like some home-made ice cream?" etc. 


That made me think of my mother, who grew up in such an atmosphere in upstate NY - quintessentially rural, right down to the outdoor plumbing, which I'm sure her family had, at least until the late 1920s or early 1930s.

My father, on the other hand, grew up in Brooklyn, about as far from rural as you could get. They both felt they'd been launched out into the world at too young an age. Mom, in particular, recalled childhood as full of trauma.

When they met, it was in the city, just at the beginning of World War II. They married, got an apartment, and later moved to the 'burbs.

The furniture and decor in our house bore no traces of Mom's "pastoral" country background. While many of my friends' homes had kind of "antique" looking furniture and windmill prints on the walls, our home was very "1950s-modern." The furniture was quite spare and basic; Dad's only requirement was that a sofa be at least 6 inches off the floor "to make it easy to vacuum under." No frilly stuff in our home. Everything was straight-line in form, single color, urban in style.

Dad loved the suburbs. He respected "rural values," but I think a country environment would have been too chaotic for him. He hated the city and could not fathom why I was always wanting to go there and later talked about wanting to move there. As Paul Simon said, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor," and Dad found that abhorrent. The suburbs were just the right amount of "nature," tempered by a reasonable amount of concrete to make good streets and parks.

Both my parents were quite happy to leave their original environments behind and start over with something completely different. I guess that's why the suburbs appealed to them; it was different from her "country" and his "city."

I had another friend, much later, named Sara, who had grown up in rural Mississippi. At the time we met, we had both just moved into a suburb in Atlanta. It was one of those "add-water-and-stir" subdivisions that ATL has become famous for: Just buy somebody's farm, knock down all the trees, put in a few curvy streets and some "charming" lookalike homes. When this happened, part of the farm was usually left intact, including the livestock. So on a quiet day you could still hear cows lowing and roosters crowing. Not having grown up with any of that, I thought it was wonderful!

Sara hated it. Her home was decorated mostly in white, with those clean, spare, unadorned lines. Any touches of "country" were there to accommodate her husband, whose decorating style could probably be called "Early NRA." But she, too, wanted to be as far away from her origins as possible. Give her a condo in the city; she'd have been fine. The suburban split-level was there for the kids' sake, and true to her word, as soon as the kids were grown and gone, they were gone too.

They stayed in their house about 10 years. By the time they moved, all the farms had been paved over. 

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