Nostalgia is for dummies

I'm trying to keep in mind all the nasty things childhood entails.

It’s August, and in Calgary that means a long slow spiral towards a wintry September. The strangeness of the city is that by the 1st, the summer seems to have run its course, and the air starts to smell like sharpened pencils and mulch.

Generally, nothing quite gets me like that back-to-school feeling. Even in elementary, when going back to school meant standing on our porch being photographed in a dress designed by the Amish, followed by ten months of “Math Minutes”, I couldn’t shake the feeling that things were about to happen.

During a university summer, going back to school means four months of working are mercifully over, and as I wistfully examine my timetable, I see a long happy year ahead of “Hindu Aesthetics and Imagery” and “Canadian Foreign Policy Since 1945.” Good, practical pursuits that don’t require me to master a vacuum cleaner or remember how to calculate GST.

But this year, I still can’t help but feel a little short-changed. Where was my summer? Where were all the camp songs around the fire, the feeling of the wind off the lake, the smell of Stampede sausages roasting on a grill? 

Upon closer reflection, the majority of these nostalgic longings seem to be several years stale. To locate their source, I have to look back a little further than last summer, or tenth grade. In fact, I’m not sure they’ve been in fine form since puberty hit. And even then, things weren’t quite as peachy as I remember.

Summer camp, for example, often entailed living in a cabin with a bunch of sociopathic pre-teen girls, all more developed and much scarier than I, and hell bent on getting a boyfriend by mid-week.

Any lake was forbidding, as it meant the wearing of a bathing suit was imminent. This was something I avoided with an intensity bordering on the obsessive. Convinced that my legs were the size and texture of Godzilla’s, I would have preferred to enter the water wearing a sheet.

And I shouldn’t even start on Stampede. It was marked with pancake breakfasts at ungodly hours, every day for at least a week, where my entire family wore matching bandanas and dorky pins of cartoon cows, and I would get kicked in the face by kid-sized spurs while in the bouncy tent.

 So I try to keep in mind the nasty things childhood entails as I lurch grudgingly towards adulthood. Playing dodgeball. Getting lice. Wearing floral stretch pants.

I try to remember these things, while August has already given itself over to autumn rain, and friends are slowly heading back to the cities they increasingly call home.

But I’m still trying to make a few last childhood memories, flawed though they might be.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.