The soft focus of nostalgia

Your intrepid local blogger on a very specific date in his past.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

If the internet was a forest and we were a sleek-coated American mink, the trap set for us would surely be one of those “Remember when” click bait articles. We can’t lay off ‘em.

And it really doesn’t matter how old you are. Sure, senior citizens keep their Christmas tree candles burning for the 1950s, but even a high school senior is happy to lecture a 7th grader about how much harder things were for them in 2015. You had to enter your phone passcode by hand back then.

This crossed my mind when I noticed the 160th anniversary of Minnesota statehood last month.

What does 160 years mean? Find yourself an 80-year-old. When they were an itty bitty baby some other 80-year-old held them in their arms. That 80-year-old was alive in 1858, before the Civil War. And yet, we forget significant news that happened five years ago while waxing nostalgic about Nintendo Power Glove and Hammer pants.

This is what blows my mind about history.

Because history and nostalgia are different things.

Nostalgia means I get to brag about riding on a beanbag chair in the “way back” of my family’s GMC Cutlass Cruiser station wagon. This was before all those laws about seatbelts and child endangerment. Or at least before they were enforced. Boy, we were a different breed back then. Of course, I have the luxury of not being one of the children hurled out of a moving car at 60 mph. That’s the unwritten rule about nostalgia. It only counts if you don’t die.

Whenever I get together with my old friends from high school we talk about the time I almost drowned. It’s hilarious. We were jumping off a fallen tree several dozen feet away from the beach. The tree would sink when all of us stood on it so we all had to tread water. I grew tired and headed back for shore.

On the way back my muscles just stopped working. I was face down in the water, barely able to paddle at all. A few seconds later my friend Mark realized what was happening and pulled me to shore. I was fine. Didn’t even inhale much water.

“We thought you were just looking for your glasses!” my friends laughed. Ha! Wouldn’t that be ironic? A guy drowns because his friends thought he was looking for his glasses. I mean, I’m down there floating in suspended animation. Feeling time slow down. Sensing the everlasting peace of death settling into my fingers and toes. I didn’t drown, though. So it’s funny.

This is the power of nostalgia.

Cribs with baby head-sized holes. Playground equipment made from rusty sheet metal. The musical catalogue of the New Kids on the Block. We laugh and reminisce because we survived.

I remember one night in 1990 my friend and I recorded “Ice, Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice off the local Top 40 radio station using a cassette tape boombox. We listened to the song over and over again so that we could type the lyrics onto the green glowing screen of his dad’s fancy new personal computer.

“Rollin in my 5.0 … pause. OK, got it. With my rag-top down so my hair can blow. Got it. The girlies on standby … waiving just to say hi. Did you stop? No, I just drove by.”

This took hours.

We printed off the final product, peeling off the feeder tabs along the side. And then we knew. We knew the lyrics to “Ice, Ice Baby.”

It’s not lost on me that this entire process would now take 15 seconds using a device that’s in my pocket right now. In fact, I could play the entire song for you with the push of a button.

I won’t. Because that’s the other important difference between history and nostalgia. History must be remembered so that we don’t repeat it. Nostalgia must be forgotten or we will embarrass the children.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 8, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. It is based on a monologue delivered in the June 23, 2018 Great Northern Radio Show.


  1. thomas whiting says

    “Nostalgia is not what it used to be.” Simone Signoret. It would be well for us to know a little French.

  2. Joyce Wallace says

    Loved this column…so very true! I also emember writing down lyrics to a song as a teenager.
    A while back I read your column about Gus Hall from Cherry Minnesota where I lived during my teens and graduated from Cherry High School. Last summer our class (1967) celebrated our 50th reunion in Eveleth at the Deluxe. My youngest grandson is 4 1/2 and is close to starting school in comparison to me celebrating 50 years of my HS graduation.
    So I understand your thought and admire it as well.
    You were a young teen in 1990 which was the year that my younger brother died who also attended Cherry High School/class of 1980.
    Just wanted to let you know I enjoy your columns. thank you

  3. OMG…I remember sitting on the deck eating supper as the guy from the mosquito co. came down the hill spraying white foam through out the neighborhood and then all of us kids ran outside to slide in the DDT…. Amazing in 2018 our EPA is looking back fondly at this time. MAGA

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