Snaps and crackles emanating from the fireplace combine with clicks and pops from the album that rotates round and round on the old console record player in our living room.
It’s getting on towards Christmas. Well, okay… really it’s just the start of November and the Christmas tree won’t even be going up until after Thanksgiving. But as a kid, November was the start of winter, and winter meant snow, and snow meant Christmas.
So, yeah, it’s getting on towards Christmas. Snowflakes are falling beyond the picture window in a silent dance to Earth, and I’m listening to the new Carpenters Christmas Album, combing through the Sears Wish Book Catalog. I flip past the housewares and lingerie sections to get to the good stuff: train sets… slot car tracks… Tonka trucks… Star Wars figures.
This was the year Santa was going to bring me a Tyco train set—the one with a diesel engine, a couple of brown boxcars, a long passenger car, and a red caboose. It was my dream to start building a monster railroad layout, and this little set was going to be the start to fulfilling that dream.
It was going to be magnificent.
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Something always fascinated me about scale models of trains, cars, airplanes, tanks, and boats. As much as I loved looking at these little machines, I loved the skill development and the total immersion into the process of creating a miniature world even more. The sense of achievement in constructing something so realistic yet so small was a powerful reminder that I was a capable, creative person—something that was hard to prove in those core math and reading and science classes at school.
Santa did bring me the train set that year, and a couple years later I had added a few more cars and switches and several landscape elements to my train layout. It was growing—slowly.
But things being what they are, adding more and more cars and landscaping became a cost (and space) prohibitive hobby.
I never did complete the layout. The trains and track and little buildings and people ended up in boxes at some point sometime in the 80s. They were probably sold at a garage sale. I honestly don’t remember.
Years later, I must have missed that creative building process, because I bought a model car—a 1928 Ford Model A I think—to build while in law school. It was an effective stress reliever, and I found that as an adult, my fine motor skills (and patience) were at a much higher level than when I was a kid. Building that car brought back wonderful memories of my childhood.
But soon my interest in embracing the past became buried in the present, and for so many years after graduating law school, my focus was on the “now” with hardly any regard for nostalgia. (I certainly didn’t know the many benefits of being nostalgic in those years and did not actively pursue it.)
So yes, the 90s and the 2000s roared in, swiftly and decisively, and “the now” took charge of my life with marriage and kids and work.
Of course I tried to at least encourage model building to my own kids. They showed some interest (and it helped that their Gramps was a HUGE model railroad enthusiast with a massive train layout in his basement). They still show some interest, but that has waned, giving way (as it has for most kids) to technology and more exciting activities, and of course, to the instant gratification of leveling up on the latest video games.
But I can’t be too hard on them for not embracing model building as a dedicated pastime. Over the years, I also succumbed to the mesmerizing pull of the latest technology and left behind the tactile hobbies and interests of my youth. Vinyl records gave way to cassettes that gave way to CDs that gave way to mp3s that gave way to on-demand streaming music. Real wood burning fireplaces turned into all-gas fireplaces, which turned into hardly using the fireplace at all because the flames were so pathetic even on their highest setting, and there was certainly no snap or crackle or that wonderful smell of burning firewood. (Honestly, at that point, who cares?)
The internet of course replaced the Sears Christmas catalog. Slot car racers were replaced with expensive RC cars, which are now replaced with camera drones controlled by my smart phone (which replaced my cordless phone, which replaced my touch tone phone, which replaced my rotary phone). “Driving” Tonka trucks was replaced with driving real cars. Star Wars figures were replaced with… well, Star Wars figures. They will never go away.
And building model railroad cars? They were replaced with… well… nothing really.
I let that hobby fade away.
And I’m not really alone in that. Model railroading and model building seem to be nostalgic endeavors reserved for an older, retired generation. Getting kids interested in model railroading or building models or other quiet, skilled hobbies or interests that require using more than thumbs and index fingers is becoming harder and harder.
And that makes me worried. I’m worried that my kids and their generation won’t have many meaningful nostalgic memories of their youth to remember. Will they look back and remember a misspent youth—a youth dominated by the passive entertainment of video games or Netflix binging?
Maybe this is just a misguided attempt to superimpose my youthful nostalgia onto them when in reality, they will have just as many wonderful, nostalgic memories as I do. They will just have different memories than me.
I hope that is true.
But because I think it’s time to find nostalgia again, I’ve decided it’s time to bring back a hands-on, nostalgic approach to living—an approach that aligns perfectly with living the kind of life Corey has written about time and time again on this blog. We certainly can celebrate the past to make today and our future better, and I’m actively working to make this a reality.
Let me tell you what I’m doing:
Music is Taking a Front Seat
I grew up listening to music. All. The. Time. But somewhere in between law school and work and kids and life…music took a back seat.
For whatever reason, it became lost in my world. Not totally of course, but it wasn’t the source of inspiration, hope, love, excitement, or energy that it used to be growing up.
About the time CD’s were all the rage, I got rid of my turntable, took my record collection to Goodwill, and boxed up my cassettes.
But all of that is making a comeback in my life. I have a new record player. I bought a dozen or so albums—ones I used to have from the 80’s– for about $40. I went to Goodwill and bought a super-nice cassette tape player for 20 bucks and broke out my box of old cassettes and mix tapes. (Bringing nostalgia back is a veritable bargain!)
So these days I mix the nostalgia of listening to vinyl and cassettes with watching the most recent YouTube music videos and streaming Spotify and Napster over my Sonos. I’m immersed in music again, and it’s an inspirational way to live.
My Environment Is Mixing Old With New
A nostalgic environment is a happy environment for me. I’ve found ways to keep my mind and heart returning to happy nostalgia that enhances my days today. I do this by keeping my home filled with things like books, art, photographs, and meaningful treasures and memorabilia. All things that remind me of people or places or events of my past, which leads me to continue to make memories with the people closest to me and positively plan my future.
This winter, I’m also going to try to enjoy my fireplace more. Yes, it’s a gas fireplace, so no snap and crackle. But it’s got a nice flame, so bring on the cold!
I’ll Be Eating Nostalgic Winter Food
With the holidays coming up, there’s no better time to work nostalgic food into the mix. A traditional turkey feast seems like a good place to start for Thanksgiving. And when December rolls around, it will be time for hot chili and spaghetti and, of course, Christmas cookies. I may try my hand at making some of my favorites (the kind my grandmother used to make) from my childhood. Bring on the Crisco! Oh, yeah… and pecan pie. I love pecan pie. There were many, many years that I did not eat pecan pie. I had some last year, and it transported me back to all the Thanksgivings and Christmases of my youth. While I know it perhaps may be the highest caloric pie ever, I don’t care this time of year. I mean, it’s not like I eat it all year round. (I could, but that would end poorly.) Bring on the pie!
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So come around my house this time of year and you’ll probably find me curled up with my dog on the couch, a plate of pecan pie in one hand, the new Sears catalog in the other, listening to the Carpenters and watching the snow fall outside.
And of course, still dreaming of building that elaborate model railroad layout.
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Let me know: What is a hobby or interest from your past that you wish was still a part of your life?
Steve is a lawyer, writer, and the lucky father of three amazing boys. Here at The Nostalgia Diaries, his goal is to help readers focus on the important things, and wants everyone to celebrate the past to create better days today.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.