In Defense of “Remember When”

Remember when is the lowest form of conversation.”

The above is a favorite quote from television’s The Sopranos, delivered and made famous by the late great actor James Gandolfini.

I used to be able to see that point of view: to express boredom with individuals that spoke of nothing but the past.

My belief is when Soprano said this, he pictured the clichéd form of Remember When: the heroics of a high school playoff game, first loves, snapshots in time where the hair is less gray (or there at all!).

I’ve come to disagree with this nugget of Soprano life advice. Navigation of the late fifties age will do that to a guy.

If Tony were able to fast forward to this era of unrest (I’ll refer again to what Eagles founding member Don Henley might call “a graceless age”), he’d agree with me: Remember When is an elevated, and necessary, form of conversation.

In post election, post social rage, (hopefully soon) post covid – why wouldn’t you want to reach back into your archives for golden moments with more frequency?

When the future may be less bright than imagined, why not temper approaching clouds with images from your past?

In the fragmented remnants of years 2020-21, why wouldn’t I want to drift back in time to my grandmother’s kitchen, to when my kids were young, or back behind the mahogany bar at my family’s restaurant?

In Remember When, I recognize legacy. When you acknowledge or explore your roots, there is no possible way (for me, anyway) to celebrate success without giving credit to the tables that were set so neatly for me before any opportunities came along.

Remember When is remembering where you came from, and ensuring that remains the spotlight on your life.

Remember When helps you keep loved ones close. The ones we’ve lost. The mentors, the teachers, the rule breakers.

I often return to the idea that a man, or woman, passes away twice: first, the physical death, and then when no one speaks their name again.

Remember When is helpful to keep them alive and vibrant, even if only in a symbolic sense.

It was, and is, the vision of my grandparents still vibrant in their sixties, seventies, and beyond.

Not just them, but the vision of their house as well. The house they had built, paid cash for (against all odds). It would serve as the backdrop of my life for over 40 years.

Remembering the massive vegetable gardens that my cousins tended. That grapevine that my great uncle Mariano pruned with painstaking care. The fig tree, homemade wine, wooden arbors with roses draped over the sides.

Remember When is the Sunday dinner: time spent with cousins, aunts, uncles et al around a crowded table, made even more crowded by the plates and platters of food that my grandmother had spent the better part of two days in preparation.

In 2022, of course, everything is different. The gardens provide no food, the shrubs I used to trim are overgrown, and the grape vine is a skeleton shadow of the past.

I would always see my grandparents, spending time most days at that house. Now, I occasionally visit them at the cemetery, just a few miles away.

I’ll tell you, however, that doesn’t make me sad. It makes me grateful. For the good times had, the memories that can never fade, my “lightning strikes” luck of being born into the family that I was.

Those memories are most meaningful in the sense that they began the final chapters: a conduit to the beginnings of the next, the new generation.

Even though I’m older now, I still consider myself part of that new generation.

A new generation that can reflect, looking back, as well as towards the future with the words remember when.

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6 thoughts on “In Defense of “Remember When”

  1. Joe,
    It’s very popular now to say “Live In The Present”. Actually had that texted back to me recently from Aunt Nancy as a response to me sending her some pictures that I thought she’d enjoy and I was a little taken back by surprise because I thought she’d enjoy them as much as I did. I’ve also used to say “Live in the Present” over and over to help me get through grief and found it only a temporary calming. I leaned on “Remember When” heavily and agree with you that the past can give you much pleasure but as you point out, balance is needed. You showed this in your story and I enjoyed reading it. Thank you!

    1. Beautiful comment sir, thank you – glad you enjoyed, and I agree. Yes, live in the moment but never be afraid to go back to the well of good memories.

  2. I was such a lucky person to be a part of “remember when”. Your great Uncle Mariano’s garden was unbelievable. I was blessed to be a part of his family Sunday dinners so many years. This girl from Brunswick couldn’t understand much of the conversation around that Sunday dinner table, but I sure felt the love and vibrancy from this family.
    I believe this also has been part of my love for Sunday dinners with all of my children and their families and spouses.
    Isa and I were best of friends all through HS, and we still are. I thank her and her loving family for just letting me be part of it all.

    1. Thank you for reading, Dianne – glad you were able to share in the great luck that I had of sitting at table with Maria and Mariano! Treasured memories that always make my heart feel full.

  3. Superb writing again. thank you Joe for expressing these very sound viewpoints about the past. Remember “you can not know where you are going if you can not know where you have been.”

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