On Nostalgia

On Nostalgia

A Story by Profkim

Analytical Meditation essay for a class on personal essay


    In 1973, I was 8 years old and I bought my father cigarettes.  Yes, that’s right.  It was perfectly legal for a third grader to buy nicotine products.    I would hop on my new bicycle that had the banana seat, a little white basket on the front, and a silver metal bell that went ching-ching-ching, and ride a few blocks on my own to the corner drugstore.   I was entrusted with a few dollars, meant to cover one pack of Winstons for Dad and a few treats for me as payment for running the errand.  Eisenhut Drugs sat on the corner where Brookville Road turns into English Avenue, in the shadow of the International Harvester plant where my father worked.

    I remember strolling the aisles, feeling so grown up to be there on my own, surveying the toy aisle (which back then consisted of simple items such as board games, balls, bubbles, and Matchbox cars), and spending a long time picking out penny and nickel candy.  I had to stretch up just a little to place the money on the wooden counter.  Back then, the storekeeper recognized all the kids, and knew which parents we belonged to so it was no big deal that I was there alone.  After receiving the change, I would feed some to the pop machine.  It was a large, red machine with a door on the front, and it dispensed real glass bottles.  There was what we would call Classic Coke; Tab or Fresca, the diet drinks; Mountain Dew, the green bottle with the hillbilly on front; and my favorite, Strawberry Nehi.  I had to retrieve the bottle from the machine, use the bottle opener to pop the cap, and then drink it there because of the deposit on glass bottles.     

   After this adventure, I would place the pack of cigarettes and the candy in my bike basket, hop on, and leisurely ride back home.  This activity was repeated a couple of times a week, weather permitting.  I remember it as one of the first opportunities to be independent and prove myself trustworthy to my parents.

    Sadly, Eisenhut Drugs has been long gone, and today it is a Mexican grocery or some such store.  International Harvester, from which my grandfather, father, and uncle retired, is now Navistar International and it has suffered massive layoffs and closures.  Every time I drive through the old area, I can’t believe how run down it is.  Everything looks so much smaller and dirtier to me now.

    So what is to be made of my feelings about that time and that place in my life?  The common dictionary definition of nostalgia is a bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past.  Truthfully, my childhood wasn’t that happy.  I lived through an abusive relationship with a mentally ill mother and I can count on less than both hands the number of happy family memories.   Why would I long for a time when I was helpless, unable to change the situation or remove myself from it?  Why would anyone prefer that over the power and free choice of adulthood?  Maybe it’s not the longing for that time, or my tender age, but more the simplicity of society at that time.  My parents didn’t worry that some freak would snatch me off my bicycle and molest or kill me.  I didn’t either.  That’s not to say those things didn’t happen, but we had an absence of fear or obsession with it ever happening in our lives.  And it’s not that we were naïve, but crimes like that weren’t constantly in our faces the way they are today.  We didn’t have instant information on the internet or our phones.  We couldn’t even conceive of what a computer or a cell phone would be at that time!  Today, we are so inundated with media, internet and news that many people are overwhelmed by it all, choosing to refuse to be enslaved by the constant onslaught.  Am I nostalgic for a period where none of this existed, where kids played outside till dark, got dirty and washed up with soap and water instead of antibacterial hand gel, and watched network TV with their parents in the living room instead of videos on You Tube alone in their rooms?  I guess I am.

   Maybe the source of my wistful looking back is that even if families were dysfunctional, they did actually spend time together.  We ate dinner together at the kitchen table, not passing each other between work, school, sports, or extracurricular activities.  Maybe as children we weren’t as independent as kids today are, but our parents sure knew our friends and where we were.

   One of the few family outings I remember enjoying was going to the Drive In movie.  This was a fairly regular occurrence in the summers and we frequented several theaters on the eastside of Indianapolis.  There was the one on Pendleton Pike, the National  in Cumberland on US 40, the “stinky” drive in at Twin Aire by the coke utility plant, and my favorite Drive In of all, Shadeland Avenue.  We used to go early to this one�"it was always still light out when we would pick the perfect spot to park our brown Chevy station wagon.   Excitedly, my little sister and I would pile out of the car and run to the playground area.  It not only had the usual swings and slides, but a full size working carousel.  And it was free!  It was like visiting an amusement park with the bonus of movies afterward.

   My mom would pop brown paper bags of popcorn at home and we would take our own drinks.  Back then, it was okay to bring coolers and snacks from home.  It was a special treat to get a hot dog or some ice cream from the concession stand.   Another event I remember was the dusk to dawn nights where they played three movies in a row, and sometimes on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, they would shoot off fireworks between the first and second movies. 

     Today there are only 500 open Drive In theaters left in the United States, and there are 3000 “dead” ones.  The number of theaters in Indiana peaked in 1972 at 110, but by 1998, there were only 31 left open.  Today, there are only two theaters operating in Indianapolis, Tibbs and Clermont, but I visit the Skyline in Shelbyville.  For some reason, rural areas have been able to keep the industry gasping, if not alive and kicking.

    In recent years, I have made it a point to take my own kids to the Drive In movie.  One night I piled about half a dozen pre-teen friends of my daughter into the back of our F-350 and spent way too much money just to make sure they didn’t live their whole lives without the experience.  “What do you mean you’ve never heard of a drive in?”  I felt absolutely compelled to share this childhood memory with all of them, but why is it such a big deal to me?     

   What was the downfall of the industry anyway?  Do people not want to spend time with their families in quarters as close as a car or van for four hours?  Is it simply preferable to see one movie in a climate-controlled stadium than see two for the same price in your vehicle?  Maybe it’s too expensive to operate the outdoor theaters anymore.   Is it a generational thing, and I’ve now reached the age where the 40-something crowd may be the last to fondly remember visiting the Drive In as a kid?  I don’ t know.

   To me, the drive in, the corner grocery store, and the relative simplicity of my childhood holds a special place in my heart and my memory.  I worry that my children won’t have enough to reminisce about in later years.  Or will they?  Maybe they will look back and say, “Gee, I remember when I got my first laptop,” or “How did we ever live without Ipods and smartphones?”  Who am I to say their nostalgia will be any more or less earned than mine is?

© 2012 Profkim

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Added on May 21, 2012
Last Updated on May 21, 2012
Tags: nostalgia



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