These are somebody’s ‘good old days’

Gene Deason- retired editor of the Brownwood Bulletin

As my fellow baby boomers grow older, friends have shared increasing numbers of emails and Facebook posts referencing what I call “the good old days.”

This is usually only a momentary return to a time when life was simpler and rules were less stringent. If a diversion is all it is, that’s fun. However, we can take it too far if it detracts from dealing with what’s happening in the here and now.

The present is fleeting, and it quickly becomes the future.

“Congratulations, you made it!” was the title of an electronic slide show that arrived this week. Vintage photos celebrated children playing baseball outside after dark, people in cars without seat belts, and adults opening medicine bottles without locking caps. The concluding message didn’t exactly say it, but the implication was, “We managed just fine, thank you very much.”

It’s easy to dwell on the positive things we remember from the past, and it’s even easier when we reach a certain reflective point in life.

Perhaps it has always been so, but I’m hearing more people recalling with delight the good things from their youth, and expressing disenchantment with trends that caused conditions to change. The term “good old days” was used in literature as least as far back as the 18th century, but my elders perfected it when I was a youngster. They recalled times when people said “please” and “thank you,” and folks could hitchhike across the country without threat of foul play. Never mind that the Great Depression had been in full force at the same time.

Today’s baby boomers may remember carefree days — and evenings — playing in their neighborhood, when parents knew every family on the block. World War II had interrupted family life for millions of Americans, and after peace was secured, couples across the nation settled down and started their families.

The technology we might curse for creating a society in which people don’t talk to each other also makes it very easy to continue living in the past. Previous generations didn’t have such vast access to recorded sights and sounds from their childhood, and our grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t share as many experiences. With modern communications, we would be unable to share opinions about national or international events, or famous celebrities we only think we know, or sporting events involving teams and athletes we mostly see on television. Thank you, modern technology.

Whenever I meet someone who is 100 years old, I try to fathom the changes in society that this individual has witnessed. This leads to a mental game I play — an exercise in comparative history that leads to sobering perspectives. For example, a senior graduating from high school considers those past 12 years stuck in class to be a lifetime, and that’s not too far off. But when you’re retired, the last 12 years don’t seem like a long time at all.

I read an article that suggested our age is the reason time seems to go by faster as we mature. When a youngster sits through a one hour of class at school, he thinks that’s forever. At 60, though, one hour is nothing. That’s because, the article said, an hour is now a much smaller percentage of the time we’ve been alive.

Let’s also remember that the “good old days” were not good at all for millions of Americans — including those without jobs, those of color, and those who suffered diseases that are so easily prevented, treated or cured today. While we still have a distance to go before everyone is under the “good old days” tent, some progress has been made. While the generation before mine has every right to be called “the greatest generation,” baby boomers — for all our faults — haven’t been a total bust, and we still have time to polish our legacy.

Whether those who contemplate “the way things used to be” are serious about returning to it, or are instead just innocently walking down memory lane, we should realize that social changes are rarely reversible. The toothpaste is out of the tube, as the saying goes.

When you finally come to grips with that, you start believing you were born 50 years too soon, instead of 50 years too late.

Gene Deason is a former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears in the Bulletin on Fridays.