The Good Old Days

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Dec 13, 2014

“We get so soon old and so late smart.”
Pennsylvania Dutch Saying

When people talk about the “good old days,” have you ever wondered how good they really were? The farther we all get from the past, the harder it is to separate fact from fiction. For as Doug Larson said, “Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”

There are many ways to go back to those days but I have found one of the easiest ways is through one or more of our five senses: tasting, hearing, smelling, seeing and feeling.

Tasting. I love Lebanon bologna. I always have. It is, after all, named for my hometown of Lebanon, Pa. Evie does everything she can to avoid the taste (and smell) of this delicious Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine because she says it is an acquired taste which she has not yet acquired. 

But when I sink my teeth into a Lebanon bologna sandwich, I feel like I have stepped into a reverse time machine and I go back to that one room schoolhouse where I learned the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Other foods take me back to my good old days: Tastykakes, shoofly pie, red beets, chicken corn noodle soup, buttered noodles, scrapple, ham loaf … . I could go on and on.

Hearing. Sounds can have the same effect on us. There are certain Christmas carols that take me back to church Christmas programs where we acted out the nativity in bathrobe costumes. Certain hymns connect me to seasons of darkness and sunshine.

Evie and I will never forget hearing our college choir sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” that evening nearly 30 years ago in Wratislav, Poland. Earlier that day we visited Auschwitz, that place where unspeakable horror took place. We were all numb by the time we climbed on the bus which was dead silent.

But that evening as the voices of our choir filled that packed old church, the hopeful music of that incredible song stirred something deeply in us that reminds us of that moment every time we hear it to this day.

Smelling. In 1996, I was riding in a car outside Brussels, Belgium and we passed a field where a farmer was baling straw. I immediately asked my friend, Roland, to stop the car. Stepping out, I walked over to the loose straw, grabbed a handful and just breathed in the fragrance. 

In my mind that odor took me back to places I had not visited for over 40 years. Smells do that. It can be the smells of freshly mowed grass, an old barn, candles, or even the perfume of a loved one that take us back to the good old days. Anne Tyler said, “Smells could bring a person back clearer than pictures ever could.”

Seeing. One of the reasons we take pictures is to help us step back into those good old days. Evie and I find the same things happening to us when we visit the old places where we used to live, whether it was during our own childhood or when our children were small. Each day in my office when I look at the painting hanging on the wall of our family farm, the same thing happens to me.

Journaling also enhances our capacity to go back. As someone said, “The faintest pencil is mightier than the greatest mind.”  

Feeling. Almost every year around March, as the early spring temperatures begin to rise and there is a damp mist on the air, when I step outside I inevitably say, “This feels just like Brussels in the morning.”  And with that feeling I go immediately to that fall semester nearly 20 years ago when I spent several months as the interim-academic dean at Continental Theological Seminary.

As Colum McCann said, “There are no days more full than those we go back to.”

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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