It has been said on more than one occasion that one shouldn’t live or dwell in the past, dredge up the past, count past hurts against someone, or let the past define oneself. In these senses, the past is somewhat of a naughty word – something to be overcome, maybe even avoided.
But then there’s nostalgia – the somewhat more romantic take on the past. It’s the feeling you get when the past leaves you yearning for the sweet sentiment that washes over you when you revisit it.
In recent days, I have found myself feeling especially nostalgic for what seems to be simpler days of eras gone by. Perhaps it’s all the heavy headlines and issues I see across the world today, all the while knowing this is the very world and the issues which my children now face. I know that all times have their own set of intense troubles and joys, and our present is, in many ways, a vast improvement on our history. But, something about peering into the past and just remembering the simpler, less convoluted aspects of it has left me feeling, well, nostalgic.
My husband has kin associated with the Wall Drug Store, the memorable tourist attraction. I’m not sure if you can get a heavier dose of nostalgia than you can by visiting Wall. So, every year, we take our kids and head west to visit. This year, we went as summer was coming to a close and the busyness of the school year was just kicking off. If you’ve ever driven west in South Dakota, it’s inevitable to see the old Wall Drug signs sprinkled on the countryside. And even the signs decree nostalgia. No hashtags, electronic billboards, Facebook ads, or spam mail. Just simple, painted billboards.
“It was an unexpectedly magical day. A slow day. A day steeped in the past, but lived in light of the present.”
Upon arrival, the sentimentality of the past reverberates throughout the entire sprawling property. This year, as my children are now old enough to truly experience the store, I watched with new eyes as they delved into the world of exploring and experiencing relics of the past. I watched as they excitedly ran from room to room, their little feet pouncing off of the creaking floors, sprinting by countless pictures of the old west (some dating even before 1900). We would stop and talk about the people in the pictures, discussing what it may have been like to live in such an era. We “mined” for gold, found beloved sparkling rocks in a dark “cave,” sat outside and drank an old-fashioned rootbeer float, and watched the kids climb all over a mythical jackalope. We doted over the western art, and admired all the nods to history – both good and bad.
And of course, because we are who we are, we ate ourselves into donut oblivion.
It was an unexpectedly magical day. A slow day. A day steeped in the past, but lived in light of the present.
As our time there came to a close, and we watched our kids play in the fountains set to the movement of old tunes, we already began to feel nostalgic for the very simplicity of that moment. Not often in our hectic modern-day life, filled with schedules and to-do’s, do we get the chance to slow way down, let them play in the fountains without an agenda or schedule, and sit in the dirt with them and play rocks until the day turns dark.
Since we’ve been back, the rocks they collected from Wall Drug are my kids’ ultimate toys. They hide them on paths for a scavenger hunt, they line them up over and over, they throw them at each other (of course, to my horror and dismay) and they treasure them. And every time I see those rocks, they remind me of that day at Wall Drug. The quietness and slowness of it; the joy of it. The day where I could get on my children’s level, look them in the eye, and teach them about the past. And, as we face somewhat of an unknown future in light of everything happening in the world today, they remind me that the past does not have to be something we avoid. Rather, the past can inform us, guide us, warn us – and ultimately, it can aid in our healing.