What We Miss

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Welcome. One year into pandemic living and nostalgia is a constant. Memories of a pre-pandemic past, when things were simpler or safer, are easily accessed. We miss the carefree way we left the house without masks just last February or March. But, as your letters show, we’re also missing things from long before 2020: Saltwater taffy on the boardwalk in Asbury Park in the 1930s. Billy Joel’s last concert at Shea Stadium. MySpace. A smartphone-less before of landlines and answering machines. Nostalgia serves, as the reporter Danielle Campoamor puts it, as “an emotional pacifier” in times of trauma or stress.

So many of you wrote in with reports of cultural nostalgia, pangs for cultural experiences from the recent and distant past.

Tim Gihring in Minneapolis dreams of video stores: “I miss someone telling me what to watch, not an algorithm. I miss seeking the approval of the guy at the counter, which never really came,” he wrote.

Loretta Healy is about to turn 80 and is moving out of her house in Gualala, Calif., going through the books she read to her grandkids, now 20 and 17: “I am very nostalgic about tucking them in bed and reading ‘No Fighting, No Biting!’ (about two baby alligators) or ‘Princess Furball’ to them until they fell asleep.”

“On lazy summer evenings when I was bored and living in Los Angeles,” wrote Todra Payne, a digital nomad currently living in Montenegro, “I’d throw on my jeans and a tank top and walk across the street to Skylight Books to browse the new releases, often catching an author reading I’d forgotten to sign up for, but was happy I’d stumbled into.”

For Judith Boland in Wellesley, Mass., it’s the smell of other people. “Bodies coming in from the cold of winter in New York, squeezing in through doors and security lines at The Met,” she wrote. “The smell of the damp street held in cold coats, coats that only come out of the closet for a special occasion, someone’s perfume as they unwrap their scarf, maybe a faint whiff of shoe polish, cooked food as we pass the way-too-expensive eatery halfway up the velvety stairs to our seats.”

Ann Gosch in Tacoma, Wash., misses “spontaneous interactions with outer-tier friends” she’d run into at the library or the gym.

Ann Williams from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, misses “all the small rituals” of attending live music performances: “polite greetings to the people in the next few seats, reading the program notes, hearing the tuneup, waiting in awe as the first movement breaks like a wave over the audience, restrained coughs breaking loose between the first and second movements.”

Nancy Carlisle in Ipswich, Mass., is musing on museums: “I miss walking from one gallery to the next in awe. I miss the whispered conversations, the rich color on the walls, the high ceilings, the decorative architectural features. I miss John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer and John Singleton Copley. I miss sitting down in the museum dining room surrounded by ladies who lunch. I miss browsing through the tchotchkes in the museum store.”

Like The Times’s own Jeremy Allen, who, missing his old neighborhood after moving apartments, steeped himself in the history of Greenwich Village; or Amanda Hess, who took refuge in a video game from her childhood last March, we may discover more than simple comfort in exploring our nostalgia. It can help us identify what matters to us, what we want to incorporate into our dreams or plans for the future.

P.S.

I loved “Hallelujah Anyway, Anyway,” a nostalgic Op-Doc my pal Neil Goldberg made, featuring the East Village shopkeepers he’d see opening their gates as he walked home from clubs in the early morning hours in the 1990s.

Pete Johnston, a filmmaker in Michigan, wrote: “Recently was treated to a flock of approximately 20 robins feasting on berries outside my window on a sunny, snowy day. Grabbed my camera and started filming and made this meditation on birds I wanted to share.” Have a look.

I’ve been enjoying “365 Stories I Want To Tell You Before We Both Die,” a daily podcast from Caveh Zahedi. In each short episode, Zahedi relays one mundane but somehow interesting tale from his past. If you liked “The Show About the Show,” you’ll like this too.

The Lost Media Wiki is a trove of nostalgia-inducing commercials, pilots, video games and other hard-to-locate bits of ephemera. I recently used it to flesh out my wispy memories of a “Little Lulu” ABC Weekend Special that originally aired in 1978.

And don’t miss this helpful guide to double-masking.

Tell us.

In a few words, tell us one thing that’s helping you lead a full and cultured life at home lately. Is it a song, a book, a recipe, an idea? Write to us: [email protected] Include your full name, age and location and we might include your submission in a future newsletter. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for passing the time appear below. See you on Friday.

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