Nostalgia is as nostalgia does
Or so I used to think, naturally enough, after years of being served my parents' stories along with the broccoli at dinnertime. Those tales are the sort seldom left untold - the sort everyone but the teller dreads, such as the nth recital about Aunt Hildegarde's toe at the Labor Day picnic in 1953. Every family has its composite Aunt Hildegarde, who all too often doesn't hesitate to recall embarrassing and hitherto forgotten toddler-era episodes from her younger relatives' childhoods. This is usually done in the presence of mere acquaintances, if not downright strangers. My own parents have done this to me many (oh, how many!) times. So much for family loyalty.
But soon after Labor Day this fall, I'll be going away to college. Not only does this bring home the startling fact that in 18 years I have accumulated a sizable store of nostalgia of my own, it also makes me realize that I may just possibly miss hearing some of those old stories. Not, perhaps, the one about the time I ... oh, never mind. I was only 3.
But it's true, I'll no longer hear my father's version of that staple of parental nostalgia, the traditional ''how I walked six miles to school in a raging snowstorm.'' My father, having grown up in Brooklyn, used to take the subway to high school.
''The subway!'' my little brother and I say.
''Every day,'' he nods.
And in our California innocence, we gasp.
Nostalgia is as nostalgia does. In our house, things of the past are alive, well, and very much part of the present. True, we have a computer - well, my brother has a computer; the modern age has got a fairly firm grip on our lives. But the fact is, my parents' everyday life style promotes a living, breathing feel for the past. Even I am not immune. After all, here am I, happily living in the microwave age; yet I have the friendliest of feelings for dark, Colonial kitchens with stone floors and heavy beams, brick ovens black with smoke and full of the solid smell of baking bread.
This feeling may stem from the fact that while still in the stroller I was trundled around to any number of historic homes with just such kitchens. It's a possibility, but I don't really believe childhood conditioning has anything to do with it. I'm sure that anyone, even the most confirmed white-bread eater, would go weak in the knees - or stomach - at the sight and smell of fat golden-toasty-brown homemade loaves hot from the oven, the kind of loaves you imagine would have been baked in those cavernous colonial ovens. The kind of ovens my mother would hate, I think, as I peer at these rich loaves through my contact lenses. And my mother, who was born in Korea and cooks a mean pot of rice, knows her way around a cake of yeast, and bakes three loaves every Monday.
Sometimes I think eating less would be easy if my mother weren't such a good cook. Often my laziness rebels against my father's propensity for good old-fashioned do-it-yourself. On the other hand, if he didn't play the radio while working around the house, I'd never have heard Vera Lynn sing ''The White Cliffs of Dover,'' and I wouldn't know how to hang wallpaper, either.