Out with the Old and in with the… Older?

Assembled General Mills cereal box jigsaw puzzle, photograph courtesy of the author.

“Everything comes back into style if you wait long enough.”

The first time I heard this phrase was in my early teens from my mother. At the time, I was obsessed with flared jeans, a trend directly inspired by bell bottoms of the 1960s. Upon hearing my mom’s words, I—like most teens—was absolutely certain she had no idea what she was talking about but kept that thought to myself. Now as an adult, I’ve come to that startling realization many of us stumble upon with age: my mother was right. This moment occurred not so long ago when I started to see a resurgence of Doc Martens boots paired with t-shirts and flannels, a trademark trend from my high school years in the 1990s when grunge was king. As if that wasn’t enough, now copious amounts of fabric scrunchies seem to be popping up everywhere, which really cements the notion that, truly, everything does come back.

Fashion trends aside, the age of quarantine and social distancing seems to have ushered in a renewed interest in many forms of entertainment that some may have considered old fashioned until now. But if the past year or so has proven anything, it’s that these simpler pastimes can still hold their own in today’s world of screens, social media, and instant gratification.

Fairly early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in jigsaw puzzles surged. With everyone stuck at home and plenty of time to fill, what could be better than assembling a vast array of tiny, oddly shaped pieces? As luck would have it, the actual challenge did not lie in piecing things together, but rather in acquiring the puzzle itself. Online retailers and the few stores that remained opened sold out quickly and prices for new and used puzzles alike seemed to skyrocket overnight. I was lucky enough to find a listing for a soon-to-be-released 1,000-piece puzzle depicting one of my very favorite things: cereal boxes and their colorful characters. I quickly pre-ordered and, when the puzzle arrived two weeks later, I got right to work. Over the course of three sittings, I carefully sifted through the pieces and delighted in assembling the familiar faces of Frankenberry, the Trix Rabbit, and several others.

Although most of us have the option to stream any number of shows and movies into our homes, many folks found themselves missing the experience of going to the movie theater. The socially distant solution? Makeshift drive-in theaters emerged around cities, occupying spaces such as stadiums, including Rochester’s own Frontier Field. While many new movies went directly to streaming, these pop-up drive-ins often touted family favorites or cult classics that not only entertained us, but also evoked a sense of nostalgia, perhaps reminding us of a simpler time.

Mr. Zip, figure, 1963, Gift of Michael A. Orsini. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

One of my favorite things that emerged as a result of the pandemic is the thoughtful and creative gestures people have come up with as a way to celebrate and support one another. Sidewalk chalk doodles, handcrafted yard signs, and the honking and cheering of drive-by parades made for great entertainment during neighborhood walks or occasionally even from the comfort of my living room. For folks not within driving distance of loved ones, a thoughtful note or package sent through the postal service was sure to brighten anyone’s day. Mr. Zip— official zip code enthusiast and USPS advertising character of the 1960s— would definitely approve.

Sheet music, On the Beach at Bali-Bali, 1936, Gift of John Pearsall. The Strong, Rochester, New York.

Around last time this year my husband and I found ourselves desperate for a change of scenery, so we drove to a nearby park to enjoy the sunset. We arrived at the lakeside parking lot to find we were far from the only ones with this idea. Dotting the shoreline were people of all ages, families in many configurations, and plenty of dogs. White-haired seniors strolled hand in hand, a young photographer set up his camera, and a family of ducks paddled along the water’s edge completely indifferent to it all. While the sight of everyone wearing masks outdoors was still fairly new at that point, the notion people of all ages still appreciate the simple beauty of a sunset did not. As I watched people basking in the pink evening light, I realized it is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. At least, that’s what my mother says.

Article by Victoria Gray, Collections Manager at The Strong National Museum of Play.

Leave a Reply