Ah, the good old days.
The simpler ways of bygone eras have become an indelible part of our collective consciousness, stirring a sense of wistfulness at their passing, whether we actually lived through them or not.
Neighbors leaned from open windows or across picket fences to chat, and thought nothing of asking to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. Newcomers were welcomed with a jingle of the doorbell and a proffered platter of freshly made cookies or a Bundt cake. And it was assumed that all were invited to the backyard barbecue.
During trips to the local grocer or druggist, owners and customers greeted each other by name, never in too much of a hurry to ask about the children or that recent vacation. And partings were peppered with give-my-best-tos.
Young people helped the elderly across busy intersections, offered to carry their bag a few blocks, and climbed trees to rescue their kittens.
Sinewy men slung a tattooed arm around their buddy’s neck as they crowded together around diner booths — some sitting, some standing with one foot propped on the edge of a seat — swapping outrageous and animated stories with other guys from town.
People took leisurely strolls down shady streets, played chess in the park, had picnics on Saturdays and impromptu dance parties on the beach. No one dreamed of whizzing by a kid’s lemonade stand without stopping.
Friends threw dress-up dinner parties, and guests offered small gifts upon arrival, as well as following up with a thank-you card by mail a few days later. Just as likely might be a game night during which participants played Twister, eventually collapsing into a heap upon one another and laughing until their cheeks hurt.
Wholesome stories and images abound, combining to weave a sort of glorious fairy tale — one continuous happily-ever-after.
Of course, we tend to overlook the historical backdrops that fostered a sense of connection and interdependence: the Great Depression, two World Wars, the beginning of the Cold War era. And story lines played out on tube model televisions, between commercials for Pepsodent and Py-o-My, were unlikely to depict the less idyllic realities of those decades.
But be that as it may, I have to ask: Why must all things good, simple or wholesome things be circumscribed to the realm of nostalgia? Why can’t the present be just as good … as ‘the good old days’?
Do windows no longer open through which to call out a hello to the neighbor as she works in the garden?
Do families moving in next door no longer enjoy baked goods or a friendly welcome?
Midway through writing this, I took a stroll uptown along shady streets. There were no newfangled signs forbidding me to do so.
I greeted people walking the opposite direction. They smiled and greeted me back.
As I entered the corner store and coffee shop in the center, I observed lines of anonymous people ordering. Checking out. Eye contact was fleeting at best. Names were not asked, offered or used. Clerks asks in rehearsed tones, “Will there be anything else?” to which they received various mumbled versions of “no” as patrons scrolled through cell phones.
When I approached the counter, I greeted Trish and then Brett by name. Eyebrows and cheeks immediately lifted, straight-line mouths forming into smiles as each in turn hailed me by name, asking how I’d been. At slower times, it’s not infrequent for workers to step out from behind the counter for a hug, as well. I joked and made good-natured conversation with the others waiting in line for coffee and donuts — an older woman, a father with a small boy riding his shoulders — each of whom smiled back and engaged all too happily.
What was it that transformed this otherwise mundane scene into something out of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show?
Had I stumbled upon some sort of temporal vortex back to ‘the good old days’?
In fact, for the most part, living in a modern Mayberry is possible for anyone, of any age, at any time, and regardless of where you live.
Those of you who know me or have read much of my writing at all know exactly what’s coming next, don’t you?
That’s right. It all comes down to that magical little thing … called choice.
You see, there’s nothing about when you happen to have been born or where you happen to live that determines your ability to be welcoming or inviting to those around you each day.
Whether you can take a walk, plan a picnic lunch, or dance on the beach.
Whether you can speak to the cashier by name and offer your own, write a thank-you card, or help someone in need.
You needn’t be able to make aspic in order to have friends over for dinner.
And they even still make Twister.
Silent Generation to Gen Z.
Mayberry to Metropolis.
Scooter to subway.
None of it has a lick to do with whether or not you can smile or say hello.
The life we live and the world we live it in are largely products of our own creation, constructions built choice by choice over time.
So grab yourself a root beer float, wave to your neighbor — and decide what you want your ‘good old days’ to look like, starting today.