Tag Archives: nostalgia

I’m in love with a fantasy.

“You’re in love with a fantasy.”

“I sometimes think I was born in the wrong decade.”

“The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying.”

(dialogue from the film Midnight in Paris)

Midnight in Paris may be Woody Allen’s last great movie, and it’s one of my favourite films of all time. I relate a lot to the main character, Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson (who, as far as I’m concerned, is the perfect actor to play the Woody Allen part for younger characters). Gil is an aspiring novelist who thinks the best time and place is Paris in the 20s.

Here’s a clip of some dialogue between his fiancée (Inez) and two friends (Paul and Carol), after his fiancée starts to tell them about the novel Gil is writing. The lead character works in a nostalgia shop.

Here’s a thirty second clip:

Here’s the dialogue:

CAROL: What’s a nostalgia shop?

PAUL: Not one of those stores that sells Shirley Temple dolls and old radios? I never know who buys that stuff – who’d want it.

FIANCÉE (pointedly): People who live in the past. Who think their lives would have been happier if they lived in an earlier time.

PAUL: And just what era would you have preferred to live in. . . ?

FIANCÉE (teasing Gil): Paris in the twenties—in the rain, when the rain wasn’t acid rain.

PAUL: I see. And no global warming, no TV or suicide bombing, nuclear weapons, drug cartels.

CAROL: The usual menu of clichéd horror stories.

PAUL: Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present.

FIANCÉE: He’s a romantic. Gil would be just fine living in a perpetual state of denial.

PAUL: The name for this fallacy is called, “Golden Age Thinking.” The erroneous notion that a different time period was better than the one one’s living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those who find coping with the present too difficult.

I’m not sure if I’m entirely a Golden Age Thinker, but I’ve certainly used Gil’s exact words in my own life: “I sometimes think I was born in the wrong decade.” I long for an elusive simpler time. Earlier in the film Gil’s fiancée tells him that he’s “in love with a fantasy.” And the film is about Gil figuring this out.

It’s a really fun film: it’s set in modern-day Paris, but, through mysterious circumstances, every night at midnight in a certain spot in the city, Gil gets picked up by a chauffeured vintage car, which takes him to hobnob with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, and a host of other famous artists (most of whose names I don’t recognize) in 1920s Paris. [SPOILER ALERT!] There he falls in love with a beautiful young Parisienne of the time, whom he later discovers wishes she lived during La Belle Epoque—Paris in the 1890s—because her decade—Gil’s favourite—is boring.

Eventually Gil realizes that “The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying,” which is a lesson I’m still learning. I think I can’t quite accept the fact that the present—beautiful, difficult, depressing, hopeful as it is—is all I have, as odd as that may sound.

Which is why Gordon T. Smith stung with some of his words in his book Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity. In a chapter about vocational holiness (“Called to Do Good Work”), he writes,

We are called to be present to our circumstances, our world—to be agents of peace and justice in the world as it actually is rather than as we wish it were. This means we turn not only from pretense (wishing we were someone else or acting as though we are someone else) but also from wishful thinking and illusion regarding our circumstances.

This means that we do not live emotionally in a previous time. We have no patience with “the good old days.” They are long gone. We discern in light of what is actually the case today. This also means we do not engage in wishful thinking. In other words, we do not dwell on what we wish were true but on what is actually true.

We live in the world as it presents itself—no nostalgia, no pining for an earlier golden age. We are not waiting around for good fortune to suddenly and finally hit us. We stop investing emotional energy in the “what-if’s,” and we get on with it.

All of us are called to such a time as this. None of us are ahead of our times, and no one is born too late and able to complain that the opportunity passed us by. Rather, we are each invited to respond to the call of God for this day.

(Gordon T. Smith, Called to Be Saints, 104-105)

Eugene Peterson, addressing pastors in Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, has much the same thing to say as Smith, but he says it much more succinctly: my work is “these people, at this time, under these conditions” (p. 131).

I have some maturing to do I guess. As we all do. But it’s not maturing I particularly want to do, even though it would make the difficulties of today that much more bearable. I think Gil’s realization that “the present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying” is in many respects a very Christian perspective. We recognize that we live in a broken world, and all is not well, even as we hope that eventually it will be.

I’m reminded of something I quoted in a post almost twelve years ago:

Our creation story does not call us to roam through life in the pursuit of happiness. In fact, that is the very thing from which we are saved. Our story portrays the great journey of God into his limited and needy creation.

Biblical hope is found when Christians hear the gospel and take their place in the great processions of the body of Christ. The proclamation of that hope is that in communing with Christ we discover all the grace we need to live joyful but limited lives. For in communing with God we encounter the mystery of his presence with us.

(M. Craig Barnes, Yearning: Living Between How It Is & How It Ought To Be, p. 21)

Wishful thinking, the grass is greener, “Golden Age Thinking”. . . none of these things actually make things better. In fact, they probably make them worse.

Here is the moment of realization for Gil, which his Parisienne love (Adriana) does not understand, but is a lesson worth remembering. They’ve jumped from the 1920s to the 1890s, and Adriana wants to stay in the 1890s, Le Belle Epoque:

Because if you stay here and this becomes your present, sooner or later you’ll imagine another time was really the golden time. . . The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying.

. . .if I’m ever going to write anything worthwhile I’ve got to get rid of my illusions and that I’d be happier in the past is one of them.

(dialogue from Midnight in Paris)

Or, if I’m ever going to be a better pastor, or if I’m ever going to live a worthwhile life I’ve got to get rid of the illusion that I’d be happier in the past.

The Pink Panther

IT’S A FACT: “The Pink Panther Theme,” by Henri Mancini, is probably my favourite song of all time. I don’t know why this is, exactly, but it has been my favourite since childhood. It evokes feeling of nostalgia, a mysterious sense of Europe and my childhood, a sense of intrigue and adventure and fun. None of these things do justice to what I feel whenever I hear the song. I can’t quite find the words.

This goes back to early childhood–perhaps even back to when we still lived in the Netherlands. Every so often one of the original Pink Panther films would be played on TV and a number of times I caught it at just the right time to catch the opening sequence, which included the theme song and a short animated feature with the pink panther and the inspector chasing him down.

These short cartoons delighted me. It was always a let-down when the actual, live-action film began. At the time, I didn’t find Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau very funny at all, and there was no pink panther, other than a mysterious jewel!

Since that time “The Pink Panther Theme” has filled me with warm, happy feelings.

I’m having some issues finding one I can embed, so here’s a link to a live version (with Mancini on piano) on YouTube.

Kept things

Today I went through my box of things kept since childhood.  Or, rather, it is a box of my things which mom kept for many years and then passed on to me.  Lots of stuff in there: a wooden race car my dad and I made and the trophies we won for both the speed of the car and its design; my old Stockade (Boys Brigade) badges; my swimming lesson patches (I got my white!); a small collection of ugly keychains; the “C” (for Cougars) which would have gone on a varsity jacket, had I purchased on; old, non-specific hockey trophies (e.g. “Pee-Wee -A- 1st Place” — no date or location) and medals (two for Most Improved Player!); old yearbook pictures of friends and of me, etc.

Yearbook

As you can see, my yearbook pictures got progressively worse.  Glasses, which I got early on, did not help a thing.  The first picture was taken in October, 1985, just a couple of months after we immigrated to Canada.  I was nearly 8 years old, and I was quite cute then, if I do say so myself.  Then I got glasses.

The second picture was taken in the fall of 1990–grade 9.  Judging by my attire, I must have forgotten that it was yearbook picture day.  The last picture is undated, but can’t be more than a year or two later.  Acne is present on the chin.

The truth is, my yearbook pictures were rarely acceptable.  I recall my mom ordering only 2 sets of yearbook pictures in 12 years and looking at these, I don’t blame her.  Early on, I tried getting away with not wearing my glasses, but my mom insisted I wear them, as she also did for my hockey pictures (even though I didn’t wear my glasses when I played), because I was a person with glasses–they were part of me.

* * *

For some reason, I kept every single birthday card, postcard, letter, etc. I received between approximately 1979 and 1992.  I’ve been carrying them around in a bag from apartment to apartment and house to house.  Today I threw most of them out–I hadn’t looked at them in years.  Dixie’s wondering if I shouldn’t keep some of them–they’ll be interesting in 20 years.  It’s extra bulk, but there’s room in the box of my stuff, so I may have to take some of them out of the recycling bin.

Several of the cards were from my Oma.  Here’s an example of a classic greeting from Oma:
Oma

For probably a decade of birthdays, if not more, this was all she wrote on the birthday cards she sent me. “Oma.”  I never resented this–after all, we’ve always lived at least 3,000kms away from Oma, so she didn’t know me all that well.  In fact, over time it became rather endearing.  I looked forward to receiving the card which would predictably say so little.  That was just Oma’s way.  I don’t remember her as a particularly affectionate person (other than the times as a child I was forced to kiss her prickly face); Opa was the affectionate one, but he died when I was quite young.

I was surprised, then, to discover that as I move back in time in Oma’s birthday cards that more would be said.  Some said, “I love you.  Oma.”  And then there were a few that said simply, “Opa en Oma”.  Further back still and the cards would have a paragraph two of writing.

It occurred to me today as I was looking through these cards that Oma said less and less as time went on probably because I never wrote her back.  I don’t blame her.

* * *

Among the birthday cards were other interesting items, like this postcard from my school in the Netherlands, announcing when the 1983 (grade 1) school year was to start and who my teacher would be:

School

It reads (rough, rather literal translation):

Hello Marc,

It’s great that you will be coming to our school!

We will be expecting you on Monday, August 20 at 8:30a.m.

You will be in Meester de Jong’s class.

We’ll see you then!

Interesting stuff.

* * *

This is the back of a postcard from my dad, postmarked in Chatham, Ontario in 1984.  Dad was visiting Opa in the hospital in Canada, after Opa had a stroke.  (Opa would die in that hospital bed 9 years later).

Papa

The postcard reads:

Dear Marc,

It is very warm at Oma’s place and in Opa’s hospital.  I may use Opa’s car–a really big, light-blue Ford–with which I go to Opa in the hospital 2 or 3 times a day.

Love you,

Papa.

On the right is what used to be our address in Holland.  Note that my last name should technically be spelled “Vandersluÿs”.

Until recent years, Dad had excellent penmanship.  Green was his ink colour of choice.  He used to be left-handed, but that was in the days when left-handedness was frowned upon, so he was forced to learn to write with his right-hand.

* * *

Speaking of Valentines, here is a valentine from me, but clearly filled in by my mom:

Valentine

She made it out to “Whomsoever”, which I think is hilarious.  I’m not sure what happened there–perhaps I had forgotten about Valentine’s Day until the night before, so Mom had to fill them in for me after I went to bed.  Or maybe I just had extra cards and Mom filled it in just in case “Whomsoever” was left out.  Evidently, I never gave it to anyone.

Here’s a valentine from a Virginia:

Homemade valentine

It’s home-made, printed on a dot-matrix printer. They may have done the home-made thing to save money, but there’s not a spot of red on it, which is unusual for a valentine, but I imagine the text would have been illegible on red paper.

I recall that we weren’t the kindest to her. We’d say this: “This is Virginia. We call her ‘Virgin’ for short, but not for long!” and then we’d laugh and laugh, even though we didn’t know what the hell we were talking about. Kids can be cruel.

* * *

Here’s a portion of a Bible lesson brought to you by the people at U.B. David + I’LL B. Jonathan Inc.:

Bible lesson

This lesson is probably from about 1988.

In heaven:

  • 2 Bibles
  • Crowns
  • Streets?
  • Trees
  • Trumpeter angels
  • Jesus

Not in heaven:

  • Love
  • The sun?
  • Light bulbs
  • Gravestones (death, I suppose)
  • The moon
  • Churches
  • Medicine (or hard liquor, but it probably means sickness)

Apparently my effort was “Excellent” and deserving of a red star. I wonder what kind of comment I would have received had I circled, say, the gravestone or crossed-out Jesus.

(I see David & Jonathan Inc. is still around.)

* * *

Last, but not least, my True Love Waits commitment, signed January 14, 1994:

True Love Waits

I meant it, too. “Sexually pure” is a frustratingly vague term which mystified me through my adolescence.  Actually, it still mystifies me, but now I don’t have to worry about it so much any more.  Non-specific terminology aside, I say with confidence that I was a virgin when I got married.  Make of that what you will, True Love Waits.

* * *

Also kept: a floppy disc labelled “PC-WRITE MASTER”; a paper boat I made and named “The Jolly Cow”; a card for my 17th birthday, from my friend in Holland. He wrote, “PS I don’t know what the card means exactly, but I did like it.” I probably didn’t know what it meant at the time either, but reading it now I think I do.

The card has a picture of a cat sitting at a business desk.  The card reads (it was in English):

At the soonest opportunity
I’d like to propose a merger . . . [turn the page]

of our corporate bodies.
Happy Birthday.

If we knew then what we know now, he probably wouldn’t have chosen that card to send me.

* * *

The box also contained a large rock collection.  Some of them are my brothers, but most of them were found/acquired by me, including a rock picked at the Columbia Ice Field, smoothed over by the retreating glacier, a piece of the Berlin Wall (not acquired personally), and numerous rocks with small fossils in them.  As memory serves, I was quite adept at spotting befossiled rocks.

And that’s today’s trip down memory lane.

Now to decide what to do with a decade’s worth of birthday cards.

Sparrow Gardens

I read in the PassPort, the Briercrest alumni rag, that Barkman Arena in Caronport is up, running and officially opened.  In some ways I want to say, “It’s about time.”  They were talking about a new hockey arena when I was in high school–someone had already started fundraising at the time and it looked like I might even play hockey in the new rink, but things fell through.  But good for them for getting it up and running.

Sparrow Gardens, the hockey rink in which generations learned to play hockey, has seen better days.  It’s old, dusty, cold, and the ice is not regulation size.  The PassPort said that it is to be torn down this month, which I noted with a bit of sadness.

I could only find one picture of Sparrow Gardens online (wait–the Moose Jaw Times Herald has a photo gallery with some shots of Sparrow Gardens as well as Barkman Arena, which looks slick):

That’s less than half of the building, but it’s the rink portion.  It’s a converted airplane hangar from the days when my hometown was a RCAF training base.  It’s one of the few remaining RCAF buildings in town.

And it’s filled with memories.

When we moved to Caronport from the Netherlands in 1985, we lived in “the hangar”–we never called it “Sparrow Gardens”, a name which I think was given to it to try to make less what it is (that is, old, dusty, ugly) during conferences and youth events–although sparrows did fly around in there.  We always called it “the hangar” or simply “the rink”.  In the picture you’ll notice portions of the building jutting out, with lower roofs.  I imagine that back in the RCAF days they housed offices and machine shops.  The portions in the picture are now dressing rooms.  However, further back on this portion of the building as well as to the right, those jutting parts were, in 1985, apartments in which student families lived, and they looked the same as they do as the portions in the picture (except they had the old RCAF windows in them).

We lived in two different apartments in the hangar in our first two years in Caronport.  My best friend at the time (James D., are you out there somewhere?) also lived in the hangar.  The first apartment we lived in was right next to the rink and my bedroom was on the inside wall of the apartment, so some nights I went to bed to the sound of pucks hitting the wall and the mesh covering the window.

I don’t remember this, but my mom often recalls a story from our first winter in that apartment in Caronport.  I would have been 7-turning-8.  It was during the first major snowstorm–cold, big snow drifts, white-outs.  My dad would have been familiar with them from his days in Caronport in the late ’50s and early ’60s, but for my mom, who had always lived in relatively mild winter climates, this was completely new and terrifying.  And it just so happened that during that snowstorm I didn’t come home when I was supposed to.  My mom immediately had mental pictures of me frozen in a snowdrift somewhere in the village and both she and dad walked into the storm to look for me, calling my name.  But they didn’t find me.

I don’t know what brought it to mind to look where they did–desperation, I suppose–but they found me sitting in one of the dressing rooms with one of the local hockey teams.  I had never left the hangar and had simply lost track of time.

In later years, Christmas holidays–two, three weeks?–would be spent mostly in the rink.  Many of the kids and some of the adults who were still in town for Christmas would be at the rink first thing in the morning and play shinny all day–maybe stopping for lunch, but then rushing right back afterwards to keep playing.  Those were great days.  Looking back, it’s strange to think of the people who joined us to play.  We had children and adults playing at the same time, people who played very well (I believe Ryan Smyth may have shown up once–he used to play for our high school team) and people who could barely skate.  Even the president of Briercrest Schools (Dr. Barkman himself) came out every now and then (he was among the very good players).

Christmas holidays in those days were about all-day pickup hockey, until one year some parent complained that there was no free skate time for the figure skaters and non-hockey players.  So rink officials stepped in and gave them their timeslot as well.  Picture in your mind 15 or 20 hockey players of various ages, sticks and skates in hand, standing on the bleachers watching one or two little girls twirling around the rink, waiting for them to be done their one or two-hour time-slot.  It was an injustice.

In the summer, the hangar was a cool refuge from the dry, 35-degree weather.  And there were no grasshoppers there.  The summer of ’85 was the worst year for grasshoppers I’ve ever experienced.  I would step near a 6″x6″ patch of grass and what would seem like hordes of grasshoppers would jump up and buzz around me, crawl on my shirt.  I had never seen such a creature before.  I was terrified.  But they didn’t go in the hangar.  Too cool, maybe.

The hangar was dusty and a little damp, too, as I recall.  It was filled with all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies–places kids would climb into, passages under the floor connecting the hangar to different parts of the old air base.  Rumour had it that some of those nooks and crannies had rat poison in them, but I suspect that was said to keep the kids away.  I never saw a rat in the hangar.   But it was probably not the healthiest place to spend summer days.  I remember mom telling us to go outside all the time.  Being out of the apartment but inside the hangar didn’t count.

Back in the day, Caronport, being a “Christian town”, banned trick-or-treating and legend had it that on All Hallows’ Eve, Satanists from Moose Jaw would come into town and do all kinds of Satanisty things.  Nobody ever explained what sorts of things those would be–we never found skinned cats or any other such rumoured-to-be evidence of Satanist activity.  Except for the one year that a couple of friends found what appeared to be a pentagram drawn in chalk underneath the old wooden bleachers in the hangar.  In chalk. We all bought it and were creeped out.

In later years, the apartments in the hangar were converted into more dressing rooms and weight rooms.

And now it is going to be torn down.  But, if I may speak sentimentally for a moment, I hold onto the memories.

I hope to get out to Caronport this summer or maybe next, just to wander around the place again.