How come what I remember of the past bears no resemblance to the memories of the people I knew while I was growing up? I get notes from people with whom I went to school. High school — even elementary school. I’d swear they went to different schools than I did — or knew someone who they identify as me, but who was not me. Not the me I know.

They have wonderful memories of our relationships. What I remember is them as the mean kids who wouldn’t even talk to me because I wasn’t one of the “cool kids.” I recall them as petty tyrants. Bullies. Yet they swear we were practically best friends. Interesting since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t invited to their parties and I’m sure we never had a civil conversation. I remember kicking one of them in the leg with the heavy, orthopedic shoes I wore — that they were making fun of. Because anyone who wasn’t like them was someone to torment.

Is my memory damaged?

I grew up in the 1950s. I get a dozen emails a week extolling that decade as “the best of the good old days.” I do not remember the 1950s as a better time. Different, but not better. Racism was rampant. Sexism and ageism weren’t even part of our vocabulary. Women and old people were treated horribly and no one was trying to fix the problem. No one thought it was something that needed fixing.

It was not a simpler time. We had less technology, but we were constantly embroiled in trying to get whatever it was we did have to work.  Our refrigerators were layered in ice. Our ovens couldn’t maintain a constant temperature. Our televisions barely registered a signal, even if we were lucky enough to have a real antenna.

In fact, everyone was so happy, they were building bomb shelters in their backyards so if someone nuked us, we might survive. I doubted it. I thought I’d rather die in the big explosion than live in a hole in the ground for the rest of my life.

Clearly, those were better days.


To my mind, the social issues were at least equally complicated. As far as climate goes, we were busily polluting it. Enthusiastically polluting it, I should say. We are still cleaning up the mess we made in those good old days.

Life wasn’t easy. Assuming you had a decent job, your pay probably allowed you to live reasonably well, but a lot of people — anyone of color, for example — was lucky to get a job at all, much less one on which a family could be supported. Nor was childhood sunlight and roses. Abuse was common. Society had silent, cultural agreement to never talk about the things that happened at home. No laws protected children and no agencies interceded. As far as that goes, it hasn’t changed all that much. We’ve got laws and agencies, but essentially, kids are still on their own.

A few years ago, Garry went to his 50th high school reunion. He came back shaking his head, wondering what school they went to. It obviously wasn’t the same one he attended. I skipped my high school reunion. I kept getting notes from former classmates about the great years we enjoyed at Jamaica High School. I don’t share those memories. I remember a racially divided school with bigoted teachers and bullying classmates. Cliques of privileged kids who ostracized anyone who was different. Sad teenagers, lost between childhood and a frightening future. Looking for help from counselors who denied the existence of the problems many of us faced. They did not care.

Is it me? Am I the one who’s broken? Or am I just someone who can’t find the rosy glow of the past. I keep remembering what really happened. It ruins everything.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

26 thoughts on “THE UN-GOLDEN PAST”

  1. I remember school as learning to pass exams. I had a good friend an d although we were split after the first class and were put in different classes she is still my friend today. I have good memories of places that no longer exist. Growing up with bombed ruins as playgrounds we didn’t realise how It was when it happned. Were there ever good days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had friends back then, though most of them have pretty much disappeared — but it’s the Facebook people who seem to have memories that have nothing to do with any reality I experienced. The joyous days of high school? Really? Maybe I’m missing something, but I remember surviving (barely) and finally graduating. COLLEGE was fun. Sometimes a lot of fun, but high school? Not so much.

      Most of my current friends are from college. Which makes me realize how long I’ve known them. Yikes. A lot of years!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t actually have to deal with any of those people. Not going to school reunions is a great choice, too. i don’t go to college reunions because anyone I knew and liked I already have as a friend and I don;t care about the rest. But the high school crowd leaves me baffled.

      Why do they think we were friends? We weren’t friends. We weren’t even civil. Why are they convinced life was wonderful? It wasn’t wonderful or even close. One of many things about life I find incomprehensible.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. That last is an absolutely stunning picture, Marilyn.
    My memory starts a decade after yours. I recognise most of the problems you describe…and the haze of wonderfulnesss that you would think overlaid that transitional period. There actually was a lot of good stuff going on… a lot of changes starting to be felt… and, at least in my none too affluent corner of the north of England, a real sense of community made folks pull together. But the rose coloured spectacles never cut it with me either. People were still people, bullies still bullies…some things don’t change, they just get caught in a different coloured spotlight.
    Mind you, I am convinced summers were sunnier (or we children didn’t notice the rain) and there was definitely longer between Christmasses than today 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had friends, though not so much IN school as OUT of them. We spent a lot of time … days and hours and months … trying to make sense of our world. We each had difficult lives, and we were all afraid to talk about them and that makes me sad. I think we could have been better for each other had we felt we could really talk. But it was a very different time and talking about what was really going on at home was something of a black hole. You just didn’t. You hinted. Of course, sound carries … so we knew more than we said, but there was something very Japanese about “not hearing” the neighbors.

      I didn’t have a foothold in my own reality until I was in college — and even then, I was young. Sixteen is sixteen, no matter what grade you’re in.

      Summers were definitely longer, sunnier, cooler and the years were MUCH longer! There was time in the seasons to relax. Now, I feel I’m stumbling over the next season before I’ve had a good look around at the one I’m in!


      1. I hear you, Marilyn…and that had not changed in my teenage years either, sadly. Even those who ought to have heard chose not to.

        And time? Who overwound the clocks??


        1. I don’t know, but they are speeding along. This summer was gone before it started and I’m not sure Autumn ever started. And now, the trees are bare and I took out our tree … and the year is ending. How can that BE?


  3. I think it’s far easier for people to forget the bad things we’ve done to others – or not even notice that we have done them in the first place. Especially in our earlier years.

    Those of us who were picked on, or ignored by the popular kids in school/college/uni tend to forget the good stuff in proportion to the bad.

    Remembering the good and forgetting the bad is probably the best way to get through life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In this case, there’s nothing good — or bad — to remember. Nothing at all. After elementary school, when actual harassment went out of style, there was a complete lack of relationship. So all the memories of our warm chats is “made up.” I might have dealt with it better had we started by admitting we didn’t HAVE a relationship, then taken it from there. But starting with an outright lie? I don’t think so.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Folks like to paint the early years as glowing, pulsing with happy. I’ve been out of highschool for 55 years (ouch) and in all of that time, after the three years or so, not one of the 27 other kids I went through most of school with has sent me a christmas card, a note, nothing. I live in the town we grew up in. Some of them do too. My husband and I (same class) went to our 20th reunion, and at that time all of us remembered each other. Who you are, I finally realized, is who you were in highschool. Bossy then, bossy now. Sat in the back row then, still does. People really don’t change; your likes and dislikes modify, but who you are is who you were.
    And you’re right, events I was IN, as to relationships, have been so re-remembered they seem to have happened to someone else.
    My closest guy buddy came on from Hawaii for the reunion, stayed a few days, visited me for ten minutes at home and spent the afternoon with my mother. Now, THAT’s annoying.

    This last reunion one of the women emailed me, cozy little remember when emails and told me she would be on my case until I agreed to come. I finally told her, flat out, most of the kids I went to school with hadn’t communicated with me since graduation, they didn’t like me and I didnt much like them. lol. Haven’t heard from her since.

    I suspect that if you were a member of the golden girls of the class, a joiner, a cheerleader, whatever, you have a very different take on the entire memory thing, since the golden girls mattered, at least to each other. The right clothes, the right boyfriends, the right everything. The rest of us just shuffled along in the slipstream.

    At our graduation one older woman when down the receiving line, and to each Grad she said, ‘you will never be this happy again. This is as good as it gets, enjoy it.” Makes you want to go home and inhale exhaust fumes.


    1. Ditto, though most of those kids live in NY, a few of them live nearby here, in Massachusetts. If they weren’t part of the annoying clique of girls who ignored or generally harassed girls like me, then what remains is that we had almost nothing in common back then and even LESS in common now.

      The mis-remembering is baffling. Or it is that the truth is humiliating. It certain OUGHT to be. I just skipped the reunions. They were all in New York and expensive … and for me or us to spend that amount of money on something I really didn’t want to do at all seemed stupid. Moreover, I went to a gigantic high school, so there’s no single reunion for everyone, but more like selective reunions for groups — mine would be all the nerdy kids who went to Harvard where, unsurprising, I didn’t go. Their golden memories are downright weird from my point of view. It doesn’t even sound like the same school, much less the same relationships. And amusingly, NONE of the few people I knew was intending to go anyway.

      Garry went to his, but he only had to stay at his mom’s place and it was free. He came back bemused. He was the only non-white kid in the school and they all remember their great relationship. Oddly, he doesn’t remember it at all. He was just nosy and wanted to see what became of them … and maybe brag that he did better and still looks pretty good.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nothing wrong with your memory or theirs. It’s all perception. And some of us (I’m one of the herd in this case) like to put a few rose colored lenses over what the past was possibly really really like. Because to us facing the stark reality of it is too depressing and everyone should have at least ONE good memory, right? A professor I worked with once told me that it was amazing to him that anyone COULD communicate because we all see the same thing just that slight bit differently from each other. Therefore you aren’t mis-remembering your past and neither are your classmates. It’s just their spin on things.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I went to one high school reunion. I was a weird kid and had only attended that high school my senior year, so nobody really noticed or dismissed me either. Yet at the 20th reunion (which is the only one they’ve ever held too), it was as if they were all my good friends from ‘way back when’. Yeah. I only knew a handful of names and found the whole experience amusing. People just like to tint things I guess…


        1. I’m beginning to think that reunions are more mental than physical. In order to attend, you have to believe the impossible because what really happened is so drab, you’d never pay money to go there. Most of us were grateful to get OUT of high school alive.


  6. No, it’s not just you Marilyn, those years have to be the most difficult for people to get through. What is so interesting to me is everyone else’s take on those times.


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