History -> Memory <- Nostalgia

I’m reading closely How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith and facilitating a virtual book club using padlet this month (Still time to join if interested. All the directions are on this padlet in column 1). After the Slavery Tour at Monticello, he interviews his tour guide, David and says:

David sees it as essential that a guide be able to find the balance between telling the truth and not pushing people so much that they shut down. He told me that when you challenge people, specifically white people’s conception of Jefferson, you’re in fact challenging their conceptions of themselves. “I’ve come to realize there’s a difference between history and nostalgia, and somewhere between those two is memory,” he said. “I think that history is the story of the past, using all the available facts, and that nostalgia is a fantast past using no facts, and somewhere between is memory, which is kind of this blend of history and a little bit of emotion…I mean, history is kind of about what you need to know…but nostalgia is what you want to hear.” (pg. 41)

I’ve been thinking about these three words —history—memory—-nostalgia.

Last week, I drove my mom to NC to see her friend, now that we are all vaccinated and it feels safe to venture out on a rode trip. Over dinner with my mother and her friend, both in their 80s, many stories were shared. They both grew up in Washington, D.C., went to the same grade school and high school and stayed close friends as they both raised their families. As I sat and listened, I hear many “Do you remember…” followed by a short story and often a chunkle.

Someting her friend said still sticks with me:
“We really grew up at a great time! I wouldn’t change anything.”

When I look at a history book from 1935-1955, facts related to WWII, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights movement are listed. Facts that paint this as a grim time in history. Yet, these two women recall a time when they happily attended the mostly all-white Catholic grade school and all-girl Catholic High School. A time when the President was always FDR and the Pope was always Pope Pius XXII. They went to the movies at the Tivoli Theatre and enjoyed milkshakes at the Soda Shop. One had a summer job with the telephone company as it changed from the party-line system to giving users a seven-digit phone number. They had the freedom to ride the streetcar down 16th Street from their Columbia Heights neighborhood to downtown Washington. Both look back fondly on their childhood.

I’m going to keep thinking about these words. —-history—-memory—–nostalgia.
Also, I have been thinking about compliance and action.
Also, I have been thinking about the history of the marginalized as I continue to read Clint’s book.
It is through stories, oral and written down, that the word is passed down.
I do believe, as we know more of the past, we can do better.

From left to right, me, my mom, her friend!

9 thoughts on “History -> Memory <- Nostalgia

  1. Denise Krebs says:

    Sally, glad to see you thinking of those words–history, memory, and nostalgia. I may have been doing something similar in a roundabout way today myself. Clint Smith’s book is definitely influencing me. I’m a little behind on the first section, so I think I’ll go read some more!

    It was nice to read some of the memories of your mom and her friend. Thanks for leading the virtual book club.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fran McCrackin says:

    This idea of history, memory and nostalgia is new to me and it really resonates with me. So interesting to join your reading with your visit, and share your thinking as you link the two. The reality of their memories plus nostalgia did leave out so much history. Did you ask them about any of the issues of those days? Fears of those days? I know, sometimes you just listen and think. This is a very gentle but also very provocative piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mgminer says:

    You are so lucky to be able to listen to your mom and her friend as they considered the past. Why is it that we tend to forget the harder things and remember the happier times? I love the distinctions between history, memory, and nostalgia and the interesting ways we, as humans, interweave them into our own versions. Becoming more aware of the components will hopefully lead us closer to truths that are important.


  4. Betsy Hubbard says:

    Wow, I’m loving how you put your thinking into three strong words. It’s putting conversations in my head. I wish so much I could join your club/study. I remember you doing one last year too! It’s wonderful that you are creating opportunities for deep thinking. My TBR list is long but I’m thinking I must add this book. It is too important.


  5. margaretsmn says:

    I love reading about your though process here from Clint’s book to your mother with her friend. Our memories are clouded by nostalgia. I grew up in Jackson, MS. at the peak of Civil Rights and Jim Crow and all that meant. We desegregated schools when I was 10! But I have a memory of a wonderful childhood playing freely in my neighborhood, chasing mosquito trucks and doing all sorts of dangerous things. But we survived…and happily. You have got my wheels turning.


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