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'Cherry-Picked Nostalgia' - A Commentary

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – I recently attended my high school reunion, where nostalgia for the "good old days" was as broad as the sea of middle-aged backsides that blockaded the dance floor. My justification for nostalgia at that event was for smooth skin, real teeth, actual waistlines and men with hair. Beyond that, nostalgia, by its nature, cherry-picks the past out of context. And the elements we choose to recall, even yearn to re-live - are often youthful naivet and self-absorbed myopia. Like the perfect dog that never had a flea.

It is amazing to look back and realize that, here and elsewhere, no one locked their doors. Children walked to school, unexposed supposedly to the fearsome threats we know today. In that sense and many others, the Eisenhower and Kennedy years were, as they said, "simpler times." "Simpler" for young, educated, professional white married male heterosexual Protestants. For others? It was a crap-shoot.

Case in point: women in the workplace. Mine was the only college educated-career mother in my grade school. In her role as book reviewer for the Dallas Morning News, were she allowed to review a "controversial" book such as "To Kill A Mockingbird," her (male) editor required that she use a male pseudonym rather than risk reader angst that a woman was commenting on hot-button issues. There was my unmarried Aunt Blanche, who worked 30 years as a secretary, where only men were eligible for profit sharing. Yep, times were simple for women then.

Clearly, racial issues were ... simple. How about my best friend's mother - whom I later learned was a child molester - who told me that I if I went with our housekeeper to hear the preacher named Martin Luther King, people might think I was "part Negro." One of our cheerleaders was asked to step down after it was reported she was seen dating a "Mexican." Rural Mississippi? Hardly. We're talking the Knox-Henderson area here.

Simple truth never got in the way of a story. A neighbor was said to have died of a heart attack in the garage, but I later learned he had put an exhaust pipe hose into his car and committed suicide. Social and religious rules were clear: at school, the principal's morning prayers always ended with "We ask this in the name of Jesus." Never mind that I sat next to Doris Stein, whose Dad was denied, as a Jew, admission to the Dallas Country Club, the most powerful place in Dallas ... although it is not in Dallas.

At the reunion, when I gently rebutted some of those idealized memories, I was viewed like an IRS agent fingering random adults for an audit. It is comforting to recall our school years with rose-colored amnesia. But I ask you - what sane Dallasite really yearns for a world before central air? What student wants to once again crank out a term paper without spell-check?

Life with no CDs, DVDs, ATM debit cards? Ugh!

Return to the time before cup-holders, AAdvantage miles, eBay or email?

Now that is simple. Forget it!


Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.