April 13th, 2021


The End of Another Year

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published December 22, 2014

Ah yes, it's auld lang syne time again. Auld Lang syne literally means "times past, which are fondly remembered." Wistful thoughts of long ago creep into my head and stir up the memories of my youth. The older I get the more I hark back; I guess that's because more of my life lies in the past than it does in the future.

Memory is a wonderful and most valuable thing. That's why it is such a nasty trick of life that so many old people lose their memories just at the time they might really enjoy them. The big three necessities for me are my eyes, my hands, and my memory.

At this nostalgic time of year I think of things that are gone. Thoughts of those things that have passed away are bittersweet. Sad longings on the one hand, coupled with a heart filled with warmth and comfort as I recall them. Traveling back in memory is like the Doris Day tune, "Sentimental Journey." It's a sentimental journey home. And as long as the grey matter continues to function properly it's a wonderful trip.

We move along day by day assuming that the things we have today will always be there for us. Of course this isn't true. Everything has an expiration date. Family, friends, pets, are the most precious and the hardest to lose of course. But even the small, seemingly insignificant things of which we take for granted in our lives can be missed once they're gone. Like for example the neighborhood drug store.

Neighborhood drug stores, the kind that had soda fountains and lunch counters, used to hug corners in every town in the country. They were as common as today's Starbucks. You could buy candy, perfume, and greeting cards there. You could get your photographs developed there. Buy costume jewelry, magazines, comic books, cigarettes, pipes, cigars and shower caps along with having your prescriptions filled. And, at least in my neighborhood drug store, they served the best malted milks in town. The big chains just aren't the same.

I miss record stores. I spent hours walking up and down the aisles searching for new titles and discovering music that I never new existed. This is how I learned about early jazz, classical, and other music that existed long before the rock and pop stuff of my generation. You can't do that on the Internet. You can search for specific titles or recordings on line, but you can't "browse" the aisles and stumble across new discoveries.

I could say the same for bookstores. With the exception of a few Barnes and Nobles here and there, they're all just about gone now. I won't even mention the used bookstores, another treasure trove of discovery; they disappeared long, long ago. Those store had a smell all their own. It wasn't a musty, stale, attic smell, it was a good smell. It smelled like…well, an old bookstore. I miss them.

I miss the big stars of yesterday and what they represented. I miss the elegance of Cary Grant. I miss the shapely figure of Marilyn Monroe. I miss the urbane wit of William Powell and Myrna Loy. I miss the sophistication of Fred Astaire and the sass and charm of Ginger Rogers. I miss the honesty of Jimmy Stewart. I miss the determination of Barbara Stanwyck. I miss the flat-out unapologetic patriotism of so many top stars of the forties.

I miss the classically elegant grand hotels, the ones first built at the early part of the last century usually in the big cities. Yes, many of them still stand today, but most of them have now been "modernized." The traditional furnishings are gone, cherry wood and mahogany replaced by lighter woods, in the style of Ikea stores. Guest rooms featuring simplistic mid-century modern furniture with bold colors mixed with swirly Arabian patterned motifs have supplanted the Queen Anne, English Chippendale, or Georgian interiors that once made these places feel so elegant.

The great hotel bars have disappeared too, almost in direct proportion to the increase in hotel spas. Those rich wood-paneled clubby oases with their leather booths and dark corners are gone, considered too masculine perhaps. Wide-open airy lobby areas have replaced them. Bright open places more fitting for high tea or a glass of Merlot than a double scotch on the rocks.

I miss the shared American culture we once enjoyed in this country. We all watched the same shows, listened to the same music and knew all the latest jokes. We read the same magazines and went to the same movies. We were taught the same history and studied the same classic authors. There was something comforting about that.

There was a sense of one nation of people, not fragments of many people who just happen to be living under one government. Our culture is so segmented today that it is possible to have young kids, teens and adults in one family that have nothing in common anymore expect for the fact that they all live under one roof.

The world has become a completely different place. So as the days of another year dwindle down to a precious few, I wish you a happy new year and good luck with whatever the world becomes next.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's also a Southern California-based freelance writer.