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LARSON: Childhood memories gone with the wind

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

Last weekend the Environmental Heritage Center celebrated Grandparents Day with a tour of McDaniels Farm, a preservation of the 1930s way of living. I had to wonder, how many grandparents of young children are old enough to remember the 1930s unless they entered parenthood on Simon Cowell’s timeline?

I talked to Jason West, director of programming at Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, about it and he said the farm setting was merely a means of prompting memories.

“Grandparents might say ‘I don’t remember this but this does remind me of something else’ and then a discussion begins,” West said.

He also said they stage these events as an incentive to get kids away from the television and computer games and communicate in person with their grandparents. As we talked, it occurred to me — by way of a broad brushstroke — that kids today are the first generation to have grandparents who grew up from infancy with television. In the early ’50s we watched Mr. Wizard, the “grandfather” of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, the “grandfather” of America’s Got Talent. We rushed home from school to catch every minute of American Bandstand, while at the same time rolled our eyes at our grandparents for gluing their eyes to Lawrence Welk.

But back to West’s objective of getting away from television and sharing real live memories. There are a couple that stick out for me.

When I was in high school they built a new YMCA, a three story building with a fence around the roof. In the summer we had Saturday night dances up there and under the moonlight danced to Paul Anka and Johnny Mathis sometimes with a gentle breeze blowing through our hair. But not anymore. Society got kind of crazy and the YMCA and their insurance company feared that some kid might get doped up on LSD and jump off the roof, so the dances were relocated to the windowless gym.

A similar memory traces back to the airport. A common date back then was a James Bond movie, fries and a shake at Howard Johnson’s and then a drive to the airport where we would climb the stairs to the observation deck and watch the planes land and take off. I’ll never forget the gusts of wind and the vicarious thrill of seeing the comings and goings of the world beyond our little blue collar town. Of course, that can’t happen anymore and I don’t need to overstate the obvious about airport security. Another memory gone with the wind.

I love that we have places like McDaniel Farm where we can recreate down to earth activities of the past, whether anyone remembers them or not. But no computer generated simulator, no matter how high tech, can ever recreate that feeling of being up on the roof.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.