Nostalgic settings stuck in time

Nostalgic settings stuck in time

All the world’s a stage.

I read those words long ago, but didn’t appreciate the stage itself until recently. As a child, I struggled to wade through school books rife with flowing descriptions. Who cares what kinds of trees are outside the house, if there is a swing set near someone’s first kiss or if a fog sits heavy on a town?

When I was my son’s age, I found those details as relevant as the cars that drove by me on my walk to junior high school. Action and dialogue meant so much more. I wanted to hear what people said or know what they were thinking.

I now appreciate the stage more than ever. In fact, I’d like to go back to Ward Melville High School and thank the stage crew for building sets that turned the stage into the Upper West Side in the 1950s or a yellow brick road.

My appreciation for a setting, however, extends beyond the actual stage. It’s in the seats of an auditorium, where a shared armrest becomes the location for the first tentative effort to hold hands.

The setting continues through the wooden doors that, like eyes focusing from a distance, have opened simultaneously, allowing an appreciative audience its first glimpse of the land that awaits. It’s a part of the marble hallway, where the chatter of birds on nearby trees supplants the chitchat of children, who seem to race out through a revolving glass door that allows the nearby rays of the sun to pour inside.

We can shift our attention to blades of grass on the playground, where an undersized third-grade transfer student catches a fly ball for the first time and suddenly feels as if everything will be OK in his new town. That same blade of grass can provide cover for an earthworm as it looks to go back underground after a heavy rainstorm, lest the birds circling overhead stop to bring the worm back to a nest of hungry birds waiting at the top of an awning on a boarded-up house the children believe is haunted.

A setting can become altered the way a police siren appears to change from the Doppler effect. Even though the alarm wails at the same frequency, its pitch seems different as the sound approaches. The basketball net that appeared to be impossibly high when we were in first grade is remarkably close to our hands as we age, making us feel as if we’ve become Gulliver in our own lives.

Nostalgia can imbue a setting with emotion. I recently drove down my old block. I saw a version of me that was younger than my children are now. I could see myself staring out the side window of my room across a row of evergreens, letting my eyes become blurry to soften the colors of the red, green, purple, yellow and white Christmas lights down the block. If we were lucky some evenings, the snow would cause the lights to flicker.

Down below those tall evergreens and just outside my front window were several bushes. During the fall, with a full moon and a violent wind, the needles on those bushes transformed into a man with a mohawk hairstyle swaying back and forth.

One morning, those bushes disappeared. I tentatively pulled back the shade, where a dump truck of snow buried my menacing friend. The bushes bent over double, as if the man with the mohawk had taken a hard punch to the gut.

As I squinted at the scene, I knew that I had aged but the man with the mohawk hadn’t.

Yes, each setting is alive with possibilities.