“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
― Marcel Proust
Ever since we moved to The South 13 years ago, I have felt like I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to fit in. It’s as if I’m a teenager, trying to get that popular girl to let me into her circle but instead I stand at the edge, flirting with the "in crowd" but never fully figuring out how to navigate the system or even what the rules are. In the end it turns out that I don’t have the beauty or the breeding to ever be part of the culture here. It was nice to spend a week at home for Christmas in the Midwest where everything is a bit more casual. My “Y’all” turned back into “You Guys” in the blink of an eye. No one really cares what outfit you’re wearing or who your family is. It was glorious. But damn was it cold outside. It turns out you CAN go home again but just make sure you bring a heavy coat, an extra pair of pants to wear under your jeans and some anti-freeze in your windshield wiper fluid. Nostalgia is a beast.
Despite the frigid temperatures, the holiday itself was nice. My husband gives the greatest gifts, even during a holiday when we agreed not to buy gifts for each other because we have to buy a new refrigerator. He is a good gift giver because he pays attention. Whether it’s something I say in a passing remark or a story he’s heard from my past a billion times, he takes it in and puts it in his pocket to be added onto some secret list, only to be pulled out of his brain weeks or months or years later. He wraps it up himself and sticks it under the tree.
This Christmas was no exception as he gave me the greatest gift ever: the entire collection of all four seasons of “China Beach”, my favorite TV show when I was 17-21ish. I’ve been waiting years for it to finally be released. My husband is younger than I am and he’s never seen it so I’ve obviously been building it up for years and he’s started watching it with me.
Let’s just take a moment to reflect upon April 26, 1988, the date that the pilot show aired. I was dreaming about my Junior Prom the following month. My hair was pretty big. There was certainly no internet, no DVR, and no binge watching. You had to wait an entire week in between episodes of TV shows and if you couldn’t be there to watch in person, you either tried to figure out how to record it on the VCR or you just missed it and life was a little bit sadder. Back then TV was a true commitment. My American History teacher had suggested to our class that we might want to watch this new show that was coming out about the Vietnam War and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my class (including the teacher) who actually watched the pilot show and I made it my life’s commitment to be there in front of the TV one night a week no matter what. This meant that eventually when my Junior Prom date turned into my longtime boyfriend, he came over to watch it with me in my room (with the door open, of course) on that little crappy black and white television that I had talked my parents into letting me take upstairs and that made me feel so wonderfully separate from the rest of my household.
Fast-forward 30 years. The production value is pretty low. The special effects are amateurish, at best. After watching 18 hours of Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Vietnam War” I realize that some of the plot lines are ludicrous. But we’re three episodes in and I’ve cried five times. I keep telling my husband to remember that it’s 30 years old and remember that it’s network television so no swearing and no realistic violence. I’m apologizing for the fact that this thing that I loved so much isn’t perfect. It’s totally flawed and a bit fluffy and I love it anyway. Maybe I should’ve kept it to myself to devour in secret while he was at work so I could bask in the glow of nostalgia without having to worry if he was having a good time. He doesn’t carry the baggage that my 17-year old self had. He’s seeing it through adult eyes that have read a ton of historical non-fiction about so many wars. Me, I’m just hanging out on my twin bed with my little black and white TV with a box of tissues and a bowl of popcorn, waiting for my high school graduation so I can conquer the world and do all the grand things.
(Full disclosure: My husband thinks that a Proust quote is a little too heavy but I really just googled quotes about nostalgia and this is the one that spoke to me. I'm not sitting around reading Proust in all of my spare time.)
*Title quote from Colleen McMurphy's character in "China Beach".