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Saturday, June 06, 2015

Remembrance of Things Past - with a nod to Marcel Proust

"Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were."

                                                                                                               -  Marcel Proust 1871-1922

Okay, folks. We’re going to take a slight detour down memory lane. The nostalgia-laden among us will appreciate it more than, say, the purists, who come to this site looking only for things East-Flatbush. Actually, the events depicted in this blog took place in East Flatbush and in the middle of the last century.

Think back to your high school days.  Some lucky souls just put in their four years, graduate and that's that. But for most of us our adolescence occupies a prime piece of real estate in our memories.  Give an adult a series of random cues and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence.  The summer you fell in love while working as a counselor at Camp Equinunk or while in summer school so you could graduate early and your new soul mate could retake Geometry. Whatever the case, your time together was magical, it ended prematurely... but you never forgot.  And maybe a half century later, when the routine of your daily life starts to get to you, you find yourself wondering what kind of a glamorous life he/she is leading now.

But now we can find out. Somehow we stumble across an email address and compose the ideal email to send to someone we haven't seen in fifty years. And, if we're lucky. maybe we get a  chatty response  and all of a sudden  the grass we have is as green, if not greener, than the person's grass we remember from a lifetime ago.

Researchers refer to this phenomenon as the 'reminiscence bump'  suggesting that memories from the ages of 15 to 25 are most vividly retained.

Here's another piece of news.  Teenagers are lousy at assessing the behavior of others.  When teenagers in one study were asked to name their closest friends, for the majority the results were not mutual.  The person you listed as your best friend probably did not name you as his/her best friend - proof that high school is a time of unrequited longings.  A lot has to do with the fact that teenagers cannot tell when they are being rejected - or accepted.

OK.  Armed with these studies when I first embarked on this 'blog business' I researched to see what 'non-scientific' information was out there that would/could jog my memory. I noticed a common thread.

Person A (the Rememberer) sees Person B’s name on a site. Person A has a major attack of nostalgia resembling something along the lines of: “Holy ____. I know that person. He/she sat behind me in ___ and I/we___ . Wow! I remember it like it was yesterday.”

What usually follows is a written litany by the rememberer (you) of events to legitimatize the relationship, to prove you’re not some kind of weirdo.

Now, you probably know where this is headed, but hold on, buckaroos.

Person B’s (the Rememberee) responses fall into one of two categories depending on the emotional level invested in the original relationship:

Category 1:

Rememberer: “Hey, you lived across the hall from us on Linden Blvd and your mother played maj jong with my mother every Tuesday. You were in high school and you usta babysit me."

Or, “You lived on East 52nd Street and I lived on Beverly Road and we played punchball on East 53rd Street because it was a wide street.

Rememberees in this category remember every minuscule detail. Wanna know the color of your mother’s kitchen wallpaper? Yellow. How many Twinkies you had before you puked your guts all over the living room carpet while watching Milton Berle? Five. Who hit the brand new 'Spauldeen' down the sewer and had to retrieve it or get the ____ beat out of him? You. (As a bonus, the Rememberee will tell you how much the ball cost fifty years ago and where he got it and who supplied the coat hanger so you could retrieve the ball from the sewer and that you still owe him fifteen cents for the ball.)

Category 1’s are easy, because deep down, there ain’t no deep down. You remember or you don’t remember. No big deal. Yeah, it would have been nice if B remembered but if not, tough!

Category 2:

Category 2’s are a whole ‘nother story. Ah. I sense some smiles forming already.

Category 2 remembrances are usually emotionally charged.

Now we’re talking serious, heavy-duty, life-altering, potentially embarrassing stuff that, in retrospect, makes us wonder how we ever climbed out of puberty, sloshed through our teens, and made it into semi-adulthood. Somewhere in this scenario is the recurring phrase “unrequited love.”

Let’s face it. By sixteen you knew what love was. You knew you had found it. Case closed.

And for the next forty or fifty years every once in a while in the privacy of your own mind, you would conjure up that image of that person who truly shaped your life. And, since your mind can be your best friend, your mind wouldn’t let that person get any older. In essence, it's a story you've rehearsed and memorized and played back to yourself a zillion times.  You knew that person as a sixteen year old and, wonder of wonders, that person is still sixteen! And she still wears her blond hair in a pony tail or you can still fit into his team jacket that he let you wear one Friday night when you were shivering outside Vincent's Pizzeria.

Typical Category 2 scenario: “Do you remember me? We went steady during the summer of '60. We both worked on Flatbush Avenue that summer.  I gave you my ID bracelet. You were the first person I ever … and you said I was the first...

Typical response: “No. And don’t write to me any more.”

I marveled that two people who shared the same  experience could remember it – or not – so differently and attach such different significance to the event. What a loser. She didn’t even remember him! Whew!


About a year ago I came across a great site where people wrote about their memories growing up in Brooklyn.

There, tucked in among all the unimportant things about far away places like Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburgh was a short piece from someone describing growing up in Flatbush. Everything she mentioned I knew. The people she talked about and the places where she hung out, I knew. And when she listed her name, I knew her!

Not only did I know her, but she was the first girl I dated. It was my sophomore year in Erasmus Hall; we dated for about six months. I mean serious, steady dating. I finally understood why my friends said dating was cool. Holy! I can still remember her.

And, in my mind, she was still fifteen.

So, I wrote to her. I mentioned our mutual friends, the neighborhood, the places we went together. This was sooo cool.

Sure enough.  About two weeks later, I get a long, chatty email from her in which she tells what she’s been doing since high school and updates on the neighborhood, some of our mutual friends from a half-century ago and her brother who grew up to own a major league ball club. Yeah, yeah. Get to the point where you remember me, too.

And finally, in the last brief paragraph the information I had been waiting for...

she politely apologizes for not remembering me.

Judy, Judy -  say it ain’t so.

P.S. I’ve sent this blog on to some friends. Each has come back with a similar story. What’s yours?

1 comment:

Gerald Vonberger said...

I know what you mean by nostalgia of the 1930s. I wish I had lived in those days. Life was so much more high society and happy back then. I guess if you're not counting the depression. Either way, is it possible to have nostalgia of something you've never experienced?

Gerald Vonberger |