Nostalgia is one hell of a drug. And as with pretty much all drugs, it can be fun and exciting to use. Even helpful for some. Getting you a nice little memory high as you take a trip back through time in your head and let yourself be transplanted in an entirely new world. But as with all drugs, there is a serious chance of negative impacts when using. It can be damaging when not used in the right mindset or setting, and when not observing the cautions that come with them.
If you don’t recognize the pitfalls, you won’t notice nostalgia can completely reverse all the negatives from certain memories and give you this filtered appreciation for something that wasn’t all you’ve cracked it up to be. This is what makes those of us with an affinity for fond memories so susceptible to falling for this mirage of reminiscent golden days. Constantly longing to reach a far-off oasis filled with these generously oversimplified fantasies. Fantasies completely expunged of all the bullshit that constantly plagues just about every period of time in our lives. It’s what gives people “graduation goggles”, looking back at high school like it was life’s biggest blessing to them. Thoroughly sifting all the silt, panning back and forth more and more as time progresses until all that remains is the golden nugget of a memory. It sits in a labeled glass case ready for admiring whenever your mind wanders past.
But life is about balance, which is probably the truest things I’ve ever come to notice. And it applies here as well. Just because there are negatives that can come with a good thing doesn’t mean everything is ruined. I’ve come to realize that you can appreciate these memories just the same and still not let the downfalls of nostalgia come to bite you in the ass. And it makes them that much better when you can do this, because you cherish these moments in time despite all the bad that came with them. That’s just how much it meant to you.
That’s not to say there aren’t phenomenal memories that once existed as they do in our head. Ones that are truly pure and equally as genuine as our brain recalls, untainted by the faulted process of our memory storing ability. And when we tap into them and let that cloud of nostalgia wrap us up and carry us into the sky, its completely warranted. There’s no plummeting fall from cloud-dissipating realizations of how things really were. They’re hard to come by though. As time continues its rhythmic unwavering march, all the moments we’ve experienced are filed, sorted, and added to the rest, only to exist solely in our heads which makes for more difficulties. But when you recognize these rarities, and hold on to them, they typically stick around for a long time.I have a handful of these gems I can usually think of off the top of my head. Some from an ancient time ago before I even knew how to type up words to tell a story, and some from even as recent as a couple months prior to now, while out exploring new countries.
But there is always one specific time I can recall from my childhood that has always resonated in such a familiar way with me. It’s not the flawless one. The one that’s fault-free and perfect from start to finish. Nor is it the kind of memory that’s like a movie, where I can remember all the details and describe them to you to make you envision yourself in my shoes. More the kind that reminds me how wonderful life can be, and creates a glowing warmth in me despite unpleasantries. And one that makes me remember how lucky I was to grow up with my family.
I was around 7 or 8 years old when my dad first took me skiing I think (like I said I can’t remember all the details). It was me and my three older siblings, and we met up with our friends, the McClain’s, at Ski Beech in North Carolina. The day itself was as fun as you might expect, struggling to learn the basics as I wiggle and slide ungracefully down the bunny hills. Learning just enough to bug the older kids and attempt to ski down the harder hills with them. The only real main parts I remember from that day were my Dad taking my picture on the ski lift at one point, and my older brother and sister abandoning me because I couldn’t keep up with them on the more difficult slopes.
The latter was a bit of an event. We got to the bottom of a hill and they told me to stay put and they’d come back for me when they were done. So stay put I did, and stay put I stayed. For probably an hour or so I stood at the bottom of that hill by myself as groups and couples and friends rode on past me, hurrying to their next lift or slaloming past as they raced to the bottom. Only an hour or so, I remember my dad saying. But to child-Jackson, time didn’t move regularly in the bitter, frozen tundra of Ski Beech, NC. It crept like molasses out of a tree. So when my dad finally found me alone, as I assume all Dad’s have the ability to do, and brought me inside the resort I was done for the day.
I got spoiled afterwards to balance my maltreatment, which is something I’ve never been accustomed to as a middle child. My dad let me get as much hot chocolate as my youthful appetite could stomach, and order any other food I desired. I remember it so well because he told me not to tell any of my siblings; they weren’t so lucky. And that makes a young kid, who’s one of six children in his family, feel like royal dignitary visiting a foreign nation. To say I felt honored to receive this sort of culinary freedom while those around you face communistic limitations is an understatement. It’s a pretty specific feeling you never forget. Maybe that’s why afterwards I don’t remember much. I don’t remember if I buckled down my boots and ventured out for more frozen embarrassments or if I just hung back and coasted the day on my prince-like handling. There probably just wasn’t much after that moment that was nearly as remarkable. But I do very specifically remember the drive home.
We stopped at taco bell, which as anyone knows is the pinnacle of roadtrip pitstops. But this time wasn’t the most typical of stops. There was no limiting us to the dollar menu, or restrictions on the amount of items we could order. The entire menu was open and fair game. Snacks, entrees, desserts. You name it and we could have it. I had that sense of freedom and indulgence rush back over me. Twice in a day with this treatment could make a kid go crazy.
We all ordered to our hearts delight and piled back in our black Chevy Suburban, with the middle row of seats folded down allowing us to lay across the back seats as we ate. There was no bickering, no arguing and telling someone to scoot over or get their arm off another siblings leg. No fighting or pestering or antagonizing of any kind. It was a rare moment of harmonized peace from a household so predicated on sibling challenging and dominance. The best part was all of us being so willing to share with each other. If one of us wanted a bite of a taco or someone else’s curly cinnamon twists, we were more than willing to oblige. It felt even more special to me I think because I was the youngest in the car, and so accustomed to having to beg and fight if I wanted something from an older sibling. But this time, it was easy. All I had to do was ask. Everyone just had an aura of content pleasantness to them. Just a couple of best friends hanging out after a long ski day, sharing their taco bell together.
That was a decade and a half ago. While that might not seem an incredibly distant time to some, to me it feels like an eternity. But those feelings I felt that day, in those moments, have never faded. They flood to the forefront of my head as quickly as I could ask, with all the same release of serotonin. It’s a memory I am forever grateful to have floating around. I know it wasn’t a perfect day from start to finish and I can remember that clearly, but that’s never mattered. It was those feelings of pure joy and recognition of it being a special moment while it was happening that has made it so lasting to me. Very few great memories will be perfect, and one could even argue that none of them will be. But being able to appreciate those instances in their true form for all that they were is a gift. Not blocking out and ignoring the negatives of it all, but valuing it because the negatives didn’t matter in the end. There are plenty of aspects that could ruin something like staying up and watching the sunrise or a simple conversation that turns into hours spent talking before you realize it. But the ability to appreciate memories as a whole, the bullshit included, and to still treasure the moments that made you happy, that’s what I want to continue to do.