This past Sunday Dave and I browsed some favorite antique and collectibles stores, and we discovered some new ones too. When I visit one of these stores I have an “out of body” experience because I travel into my past. Dave always teases me because I like to touch everything, pick it up and hold it, often losing myself in a rush of nostalgia. It is fortunate that the shops we like are not high end! I guess one of the reasons my husband and I are so compatible is that we are historians even more than collectors–always connecting the past with the present.
Because I am in my sixties, the items I find that link me to my childhood or teenage years are now between fifty and sixty years old. On a shelf I might see a doll with a cloth body and molded plastic face, very much like the one I spotted in a baby picture of me. I don’t even remember the doll–just a wisp of memory that I can’t really capture. A darling fitted wool coat with matching hat and muff tickles a memory of me wearing such a coat to church or school when I was my granddaughter’s age. Aisles and aisles of dishes, lamps, spice cans, old magazines, Golden Books, Life magazines, furniture, Corning Ware, pottery, coffee carafes–all of them transport me back to childhood remembrances of a different world, a different time, another country all together.
Recently we have begun renting old television shows from Netflix . These anthologies come from Playhouse 90, Kraft Theater and Westinghouse’s Studio One, to name a few. The one we watched last night featured Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in a 1953 Studio One performance. Of course they are performed live, broadcast in black and white with patchy sound and the poor picture quality. Nevertheless, Gleason and Carney’s talent surmounted all of that. The story was nuanced and and had a spiritual quality to it that is missing from much of modern television. Of course, early television was avant garde at its outset. These shows originated from New York City, so they featured Broadway actors for the most part, many of whom were experienced and older than the actors who populate most of our television today. Given the newness of the medium, they were pioneers and took chances.
Cable shows such Damages, Breaking Bad and Mad Men dare to take these kind of risks with meaningful stories today, but they are a premium. Anyone who views them pays to have cable or satellite link-ups. I guess, in a way, people in 1953 who could afford a television set and lived in an area where it was available also paid because televisions were a luxury item. The argument that I am making, however, is that television producers and their sponsors believed that people wanted quality programming all the time. They had respect for the audience. Even the old Perry Mason series featured a more complex vocabulary than most television today.
Okay, okay–I’m beginning to sound like my grandmother, talking about the malaise of the modern world. I guess that is part of having lived several decades so I can compare and contrast, but I have to say that I don’t think everything new is an improvement.
Another program we ordered from Netflix was a documentary from 2005 titled The End of Suburbia. Since it was produced in 2004/2005, it seemed prophetic when it predicted the recession and decline of the American lifestyle, the continuing war and threats to American safety, the gasoline price crisis and the problems we have because we built our lives around suburbs, cars and highways. The huge divisions between haves and have-nots were also analyzed. In fact, experts knew in the late 1960s/early 1970s that we would run short of oil before the end of the century, but kept silent about it. Anyone who did speak out, such as Jimmy Carter, was called a gloom and doom naysayer. Dave and I kept pausing the video to analyze all that we were hearing.
On our drive home from “antiquing”, we talked about how much more complicated life has become. We know so much more than we did twenty or thirty years ago and the world has changed so fast, even within the last ten years. The very idea of living to 100 years of age seems daunting–how much more change can we absorb? Childhood seems a long, long time ago. And 30+ more years of life seems more of the future than we might be able to endure.