Tag Archives: Jeremiah Johnson

The Two Sides of Nostalgia

I’ve talked about nostalgia on here before. At my age, I suppose it’s a fact of life. At some point—I’m not sure exactly when, and I’m sure it varies—a person realizes there are fond memories of youth you’ll never get to relive, except in your mind.

But nostalgia can be a two-edged sword. I’m sure all of us have had the experience of trying to enjoy something from our past only to wonder what in the world we saw in it. One of those items for me is the series The Dukes of Hazzard, a show I watched avidly as a young teen, though interest in it waned as I grew older—and as the show began to outlive its original creativeness. I don’t think I watched hardly any episodes after John Schneider and Tom Wopat—Bo and Luke Duke, respectively—briefly left the show to be replaced by their cousins… who also happened to have blond and brown hair. I can’t even remember the cousins’ names, which is probably just as well.

But, sometimes things do feel the same. I had both experiences recently and, lacking much else to talk about, thought I’d subject you to stuff you probably don’t care about.

Way back longer ago than even the Dukes, a movie came out called The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, starring Dan Haggerty in the title role. Mr. Haggerty—according to what I found about him on Wikipedia—led quite an exciting life, being an animal wrangler for many movies. Like the character he played in the movie—and the later TV series—he had a way with animals.

My wife and I recently checked Season One of the series out from the library and managed to get through the pilot episode. I remember the series fondly, but the reality didn’t quite stack up against those memories. I’d love to find the movie, but it apparently is unavailable.

The series—inspired, no doubt, by the popularity of the movie—lasted only two seasons. The pilot episode was fairly unexciting, and there were plot holes in it a mile wide. For instance, unlike the real Grizzly Adams, the TV version wouldn’t eat animals—which left one wondering just exactly what it was he lived on up in those mountains. Sure, there are plants to eat, but the winters are long, and I’m not sure how he could get by without dying of malnutrition.

And what about Mad Jack, the character played by Denver Pyle (incidentally enough, the actor who later played Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard)? What, exactly, did he do? He visits Grizzly on a regular basis, always griping at and threatening the mule he called Old Number 7—because that was his seventh mule, presumably—a pack animal he never rode, and whose character evidently existed solely to bring supplies from down below to Grizzly—and provide some comic relief.

And where did Jack get those supplies, anyway? If the show were historically accurate, the man would had to have traveled all the way across the Great Plains to Saint Louis, a journey of about three months, if I recall correctly.

Despite all this—which didn’t bother me when I was a kid, of course—there were still some things about the show I liked. My dad took me to see the movie at the old Madison Theater (which I talk about elsewhere on this blog) when it came out, and it was the only time my dad ever took me to anything like that. He wasn’t big on going to movies, so even though I remember no real details, the event itself is burned into my mind, lo more than forty years later.

On top of that, the movie—and later the series—started my fascination with mountain men. It’s probably my favorite era of the expansion into the Old West, a brief period when men ventured into the mountains in search of beaver pelts to sell to the fur companies. Beaver was exceedingly popular back East and in Europe, and the mountain men and fur companies catered to that demand. Of course, there were only one or two fur companies to sell to, so the mountain men pretty much got fleeced every year at rendezvous, but they must have figured it was worth it to go for a year without seeing very many other people. When the public decided to move on from beaver to something else in the mid-1830s, many of the mountain men stayed on, eking out a living as best they could, while others came down out of the hills to serve as guides for rich hunters or the military in the latter’s growing war against the Indians.

Watching The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams made me fall in love with the mountains. The scenery in those shows is spectacular, even if the plots were less than stellar. I spent all my youth in love with places I’ve yet to see, and I still have enough fondness for them that I long to visit them yet.

That love was only enhanced later when I saw movies like Jeremiah Johnson and The Mountain Men, and even the recent movie The Revenant.

So, the results of indulging in that nostalgia were a bit mixed.

On the other hand, Saturday I got a much-needed haircut. The place I go is a hair academy, where students cut your hair. They’re supervised, and I’ve never had a bad experience, but as I waited, I looked up at the whiteboard where they post their specials, and someone had drawn a snowman and evergreen trees, along with falling snow, on the board to accompany the weekly special. I don’t remember what the special was—it wasn’t something I would want—but I remember that picture, because it reminded me so much of the Christmas cards that used to fascinate me when I was a kid.

I can’t tell you exactly what it was that enraptured me of these cards, but I’ve always been a sucker for good artwork. Most of the cards my family received during the seventies were very atmospheric—sleighs, snow-laden trees, houses covered with snow, their windows glowing buttery yellow with warm light. Some had actual glitter on them to make them sparkle, and I can still remember their rough texture under my fingers. Wreaths adorned them, and so did Santa in hundreds of poses—though usually laughing, sometimes with kids around him, sometimes standing in a room lit only by flames in the fireplace as he ate milk and cookies left out by the more thoughtful families.

And, of course, Christmas trees, clad in lights, ornaments, and garland, a large star on top, brightly wrapped presents around its feet—who could forget that?

All of this and more I saw in this simple yet elegant drawing on the whiteboard, and it brought a smile to my face. I can’t go back to those times—alas—but I can cherish them in my head. There was magic on those cards, and, to me, that magic isn’t there on modern cards. The subject matter seems to have changed, maybe gotten more generic or more politically correct, I’m not sure, but they don’t have that same allure they did to me as a child.

Probably because I’m a jaded adult now and, let’s face it, Christmas really is for the little ones—what my wife fondly calls tiny humans.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas, full of joy and love…

And more than a touch of magic.

Later,
Gil