Writing from the Heart: The good ol’ days

Were they really good, or do we have selective memories?


Ah, the good ol’ days. Who says that? I have never said those words, and I’m old enough to feel the sentiment. I can’t imagine thinking that the good ol’ days were better. It’s true the other night my friends and I sang the jingle, “My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer … won’t you try extra-dry Rheingold beer?”

And then we moved on to listing the candies of our youth. My husband said about candy dots that you always got a little paper with each one. We reminisced about going to the drugstore after school, sitting on stools that swiveled so you could look at the boys in the booth behind you. All of us knew the names of the people who got the first television sets in the neighborhood. And there is something about remembering with people who have the same memories. But going back there? Wanting to return? Uh-uh.

I was 5 foot 11 in junior high school. Sometimes when I watch the UConn girls basketball team, I wonder what would have happened if in gym class they had actually taught us how to play basketball. Instead we had to stop running half-court, presumably because they didn’t think we had the stamina to run the full court, or maybe it was just that they didn’t want girls to sweat.

All I know is, I could easily slip into “I coulda been somebody … I coulda been a contender.” The good ol’ days did not have Title IX.

In the good ol’ days, plastic was considered a miracle, and when we were finished with all the little miracles, we blithely threw them out. The good ol’ days had no clue about landfills and mounds of nonbiodegradable stuff that leached PCBs and contaminated our groundwater.

Attitudes about sex in the good ol’ days? Oh, dear. Oh, my! My mother was a young widow, and had been madly in love with my father. Finally, after years of being alone, she met a sweet man who courted her. After a year of dating, he gave her an elegant silk nightgown. She almost had a nervous breakdown. My sister and I said, “Mom, try it on.” Absolutely not, she said. What was he thinking? It was not a rhetorical question. She wouldn’t even take it out of the box.

Were those the good ol’ days?

My good ol’ grownup days included yearning for wall-to-wall carpeting, a new car, thinner thighs. I wanted to be able to say at a cocktail party when asked — or even not when asked — yeah, I’m a filmmaker, I’m a linguistics specialist, my kid won the international chess championship. It took me decades to let go of some of those hungry ghosts. There are still some lingering ones, but I found out that functioning thighs, ones that help hold me up, are the ones I need, wall-to-wall carpeting does not bring happiness, and it turns out who cares what year the car was born, if it gets you from A to Z, letters take precedence over numbers.

Soon after “the Nightgown Incident” (as we started calling it), the boyfriend invited her to fly down to the Kentucky Derby, an event about as far from her reality as if he had asked her to go for a weekend picnic on Pluto. “How will we stay?” she had asked. “What do you mean?” he responded. “Well, I’d have to stay in a different hotel,” she said. He was confused, but continued listening. “If there were a fire,” the poor thing said, “and it got out that I was staying in your room, I can’t risk my daughters’ reputation. It would ruin their prospects.”

Please tell me no one says “ruin their prospects” any more. I remember saying, “Mom, times have changed. Please go and have a great time. And stay with Jack. He really likes you and you really like him.” She didn’t go, and he broke up with her. Those were some good ol’ days.

So who are the people who wistfully say the good ol’ days and mean it? I think a lot of folks who learned how to compartmentalize. They pushed the bad moments of their younger days into a dark closet, and they are feeling a loss of power, perhaps unearned power, power that maybe they never consciously knew they had.

But yes, times change, and they might be hanging on with a death grip to what they suddenly realize was possibly their whole identity.

It’s funny. Just as they’re terrified of losing their power, I am finally finding mine.



  1. So much of this resonates with me. Having lived a sheltered life going to an all girls Catholic H.S., we did the same thing over & over in gym class –hockey on the grass and a little bit of basketball. We never played a real game with teams in either sport! Did that ugly gym teacher think we’d get hurt? Those were the bad ole days. It was when I felt like Holden Caulfield from the Catcher in the Rye, totally alienated from what went on around me. I did take a stab at pledging for a sarority and failed to become a “sarority sister”. They made me pledge a second year, so I quit. Thanks Nancy for another wonderful personal essay.

  2. Thank you, Nancy! I love your stories! There is always something I identify with, including hateful gym classes.

  3. NANCY! You’ve done it this time.. I SWEAR, I have been singing the Rheingold jingle for the past couple of days! “It’s not bitter, not sweet, it’s that dry flavored treat..”

    My Uncle Bernie was a Rheingold salesman. A classic “good old days” guy. I remember him having a small device you held up to look into, that had a picture of a topless woman inside. Scandalous! Uncle Bernie took me to my first rock “concert”, at the State Theatre, in Hartford. I think I saw Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis. I’ll owe him for that forever.

  4. Loved this…I totally related because it was my time period. Yes, there are always memories to savor but there is always the good and the bad until we come to a balance of expectations. Despite all the wrong with this world, I feel (like Ann Frank) that there is still a lot of good.

  5. The people who yearn for the “good ole’ days” are the same ones who still worry about “ruining their daughter’s prospects.” I’m with you, Nancy, they can have ’em!

Comments are closed.