Imaginary Nostalgia

You know how you always hear people wistfully remember things from their youth?  Well, a couple weeks back, I had a longing to experience something that was going on before I was born.

I know lots of people do that.  Women (or men) wishing they were around during the time of the suffragettes, or maybe even military leaders longing to have learned at the hip of “greats” like Napoleon, or General Grant, or even Patton.  But mine was different than that.  I was wishing that I’d been alive to see all the cool Burma Shave signs along the road.

BurmaShaveBucketI don’t know what exactly brought the Burma Shave signs to my mind recently, but I found myself wishing that we had something cute and short like that along the roads nowadays.  And I thought of a book my mother had called The Verse by the Side of the Road, that showcased many of the original signs.  I read it back when I was a girl, and I remembered Mom talking about seeing the signs along the road when she went on a trip with her family.  She spoke with such a fondness for them, that I found myself wishing I’d experienced them, too.  When they came to my mind again recently, I felt the same feeling of wishing I’d been able to see them in person.

Unfortunately, they’re all gone by now, but it brought to mind an interesting thought:  Why do we sometimes feel wistful for something we’ve never personally experienced?

I can understand how someone in my generation could feel a longing for the days when gas was under a buck, but for kids who are learning how to drive today?  How is it possible for them to feel nostalgic for something they’ve never even come close to knowing in their own lifetime?  Or, is it more like how I feel about the Burma Shave signs; wishing they had experienced the cheaper gas?

More often than not, when we long for something from the past, it’s usually because we’re not entirely happy with something related in our present life.  The problem with this is that we’re usually seeing the past through rose-colored glasses in many cases.

For instance, someone from my grandmother’s generation could be wistful for the days when a loaf of bread cost only 5 cents.  And for someone in my generation, that’s an unbelievably low price that we WISH was around today.  However, both generations are either ignoring or forgetting the fact that the median wage was 22 cents an hour back then.  So that loaf of bread wasn’t considered all that cheap back then.  Not to mention the fact that cars barely went faster than 35 mph and many had to be hand-cranked, and there were all sorts of diseases that people had to be worried about back then, like tuberculosis.

burma shaveThere’s a down side to my longing for the Burma Shave signs, also.  Yes, it might’ve been cute to see the little poems alongside of the roads at one point, but those roads would’ve no doubt been unpaved, meaning lots of dirt and dust flying everywhere.  Not to mention the fact that–because those signs were up mostly from the 20s through the 50s–there wasn’t much else to see or do on a long, boring road trip to the Corn Capital of the World, or wherever else those signs were.

This is where I think that time travel could be kind of fun.  I’ve never really had a desire to live in a different time in history, but I would DEFINITELY like to take a quick jaunt backward to see some of the things I never got to see first-hand.

So to all you present and future scientists, when you finally perfect time travel and make it affordable for us to take a vacation back in the days of the flappers, or the glory of the Renaissance, please make sure to offer up a chance to go back to the heyday of the Burma Shave signs along Route 66.  That way, we could satisfy two nostalgic trips in one.

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