Friday, January 6, 2012

When I was your age . . .

Visiting my grandparents was a regular occurrence when I was growing up. Usually, I would go inside long enough to notify the grandparents of my presence, and then scamper away before boring grown-up talk began.

Sometimes, though, climbing trees and romping around with my cousins wasn't on my list of things I felt like doing, so I would sulk in the corner of the living room while the grown-ups talked, impatiently watching the hands on the clock move at snail pace.

Eventually I figured out that listening to what the grown-ups were saying actually warranted some entertainment value, and I stopped blocking out the sound. As I got older, the visits with the grandparents translated into actually visiting with the grandparents, though of course that came with the required checklist of stories to get through with every visit.

For example: "When I was your age, I walked to school every day, uphill both ways, in six feet of snow, with no shoes on." Sound familiar?

In every variation of this story I've heard, though, I've noticed a striking similarity: everyone seemed to agree that life was better way back when, even though life now offers so many more comforts. With the way the old-timers told it, I'll admit I felt a little envious that I never had to eat dirt for breakfast or battle my way through school.

Telling stories about better days is by no means exclusive to those with crinkly skin and white hair. Those of us with "young" hair and acne-prone skin are guilty of it, too.

To some extent, I think all of us form attachments to the world we knew growing up. Changes, even good changes, often come with a feeling of loss, because it usually means that a small piece of culture you were so familiar with is doomed to become nothing more than a memory, one of those "boring" stories you'll tell your grandchildren over and over again.

Among the boring stories I'll be telling my grandchildren will be the experience of shopping.

My boss gave me two giftcards for Christmas: one for Barnes & Noble, one for JW Pepper (music store). If I still lived on the edge of civilization I would have ordered stuff online, but since I live within 20 minutes of anything I could possibly want, I decided to enter the stores and have a real shopping experience.

Walking into a book or music store is a bit like knowingly walking into a pile of quicksand, which is why I generally avoid going into the stores. However, these giftcards gave me an excuse to indulge myself in a way I never have before, and, despite the risk of possible suckdom, it was a bit like being translated into Geek Heaven. I meticulously glanced through endless stacks of music, and I stopped to touch and smell the books with pretty covers. I was interrupted by honking sounds of an inexperienced saxophone player and distracted by squashy armchairs. I interacted with other people who, like me, have passions for music and the written word.

And then I went home happy and content, purchases in hand. No cold, impersonal transaction required, no need to wait for items to be shipped.

While the benefits of online shopping far outweigh the benefits of in-store shopping, my grandkids will probably be hearing about the rare times I got to see, touch, and smell something before I took it home to treasure it. A small thing, but a part of my growing-up culture nonetheless.

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