Jeff Mason

Applause Issue 32 Label

In Appreciation of the Golden Age

Christmas Eve, 2006. Me and my brother sit on my grandma and grandpa’s white shag carpet. This year, we’re hoping for some new Bionicles. It doesn’t matter to us which one of the 20 family members packed into this living room picked our names for Secret Santa; we’ll give any of them a big sugar-rush hug in any case, as long as we get our toys. I’m six and my brother is eight. Christmas for us is life-changing.

But what ends up being the gift of the night turns out to be a case of DVD’s that my mom receives from her mom. Grandma Ruth thought my mother would enjoy the first season of “Gilligan’s Island,” a TV show that first aired in 1964. I don’t know if my mother planned on raising her two kids on old 1960’s sitcoms before that day. Maybe “Gilligan’s Island” was the first domino in a stack of 1960’s DVD’s. Maybe it was the first sign of what was to come.

Instead of “Teen Titans” and “Danny Phantom” and the like, my brother and I were raised on the classics. Soon after we finished watching all three seasons of “Gilligan’s Island,” there came “M*A*S*H” and “Cheers,” “The Jetsons” and “Wacky Races.” When we talked about these shows in elementary and middle school, the other kids looked at us like we were from a different country. But I still remember the day that my 4th grade teacher and I sang the theme to “Gilligan’s Island” together. I remember holding eye contact with her and smiling the entire time.

My brother and I did push back a little bit. When I was in the 5th grade, my mom took us to the video store and told us she would buy a set of DVD’s for us. My brother and I decided on the 5th season of “Spongebob Squarepants” — a show we’d only been able to watch on vacation. But letting us choose wasn’t my mom’s intention. She bought the first season of “Wings,” which had first aired back in 1990, and I cried the whole way home. When we got back inside, I sulked on the couch, eating a compensatory root beer float and watching the pilot episode of “Wings.” I tried not to laugh or smile at the sitcom’s jokes, but that didn’t last long.

When I was older, around the time I was entering high school, I learned that I was related to an actor named David Huddleston, famous for supporting roles in “Blazing Saddles” and “Smokey and the Bandit II.” Those movies mean nothing to a lot of people my age. Many of my friends at the time had distant relatives playing in the NFL or gaining some acclaim in Hollywood. But my only famous relative had stamped his name into history 20 years prior — before I was even born. The first question I got in high school when I told people about David Huddleston was always “What was he in?” Their second question, when they hadn’t heard of any of those movies, was always, “Is he dead?”

Now, I’m 22 years old and on the brink of graduating from college. My classmates and I have grown up being told we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us. We’re nearing our golden age. Yet so often these days, I see posts on social media retreating into the past, reexamining the context of shows like “Rugrats” and “The Fairly OddParents.” I have conversations all the time that center on reminiscing about the “good ole days” of watching “VeggieTales” and “Codename: Kids Next Door” and “iCarly.” This past summer, it seemed like my whole graduating class rewatched “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Our childhoods are a gold mine.

The people my age who I talk with don’t look past graduation and feel like they’re on the brink of truly living. They often feel like they’re only just realizing how golden those childhood memories are. They feel old in the soul. But I tell them that’s a good thing. I’ve felt old since the moment I asked for “Lost in Space” DVD’s for Christmas. I tell them, most people 20 years ago would’ve killed to play a game of cribbage with The Big Lebowski himself. Now, most people won’t appreciate how golden a moment like that is.

Jeff Mason is Lawrence University’s first non-organic graduate. Used to love baseball and not being bodysnatched. Now just stares unrecognizingly into the mirror.

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