10 Cultural Phenomena (from the Last 40 Years) That Are Gone Forever and Worth Remembering

So my kids are getting ready to go back to school, and for some reason the smell of new notebook paper and pulling out the backpacks makes me nostalgic. In hope of preserving of mutual memory, I bring you 10 things to remember from the last 40 years.

Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom
This show took us to exotic places and ignited our wonder over lands that most of us never dreamed of visiting, to see animals (in their natural habitat!) we would never find in our backyards. Also, remember how his assistant, Jim, did all the work and Marlin Perkins got the glory? Yes, it’s back on Animal Planet–but we’ll never recapture the unique window to the world that show gave us in its heyday.

The Muppet Show
The Muppets are still with us (thank God!), but cultural context ensures the clever fun and unifying force of the original show will never be matched.

Skate night
Yes, you can still find a skating rink and test your wheels on a Friday night. But you won’t find the rest of your eighth-grade class there. And they probably won’t play Journey’s “Open Arms” for the couples’ skate.

The honest-to-goodness potluck
Yes, we still sit down to eat together. And sometimes we bring food. But most of the time, in my experience, these affairs are now catered–or the table is populated with food from the local deli or bakery (sometimes desperately disguised in a casserole dish from home). I’m as appreciative of food safety as anyone else, and I understand the impulse to avoid cooking ourselves. But there was something beautiful about feeding each other by the (mostly amateur) work of our hands.

Unquestioned urban legends
I’m not sure why, but for some reason I miss hearing a dramatic tale about wild jungle predators living in the sewers of a major American city and lacking the capacity to look it up and immediately discredit the story. We don’t have a lot of room for mystery anymore.

Boring summer vacations
Remember when summers were less busy than the school year?

The bookmobile
Apparently a few of these still roam the streets of America. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one, and my favorite kind of car is a car full of books.

Gas station attendants
Poor guys, but it was kind of nice to pull up and have someone pump the gas for you.

Not knowing where your kid is
Now, of course I don’t mean this in the sense that “someone has taken my kid.” I mean there was a time (my childhood; I remember it well) when kids could go outside and play all day and parents knew they were OK–as long as they showed up for dinner.

Radio dedications
Remember when we could call the Top 40 radio station and dedicate a song to someone we loved, with a reasonable certainty that they would actually be listening?

What did I miss?

16 Comments
  1. David Trost says:

    I feel like I’m in high school again

  2. Helen Goody says:

    Saturday morning cartoons! While I must admit having cartoons on at any time, anywhere has been a handy babysitter, there was something special about Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Sleep until you wake up (but not too late lest you miss out on something), then watch an hour of Bugs Bunny/Road Runner hour. Then maybe a little Speed Racer or Smurfs or Superfriends, until about noon when the cartoon demographic gave way to sports.

  3. Trig says:

    Great list Amy, great list….something to this for sure

  4. Nancy Taylor says:

    I just went to a potluck yesterday! So not completely gone, but a dying breed for sure. When I was little I called them “tough lucks,” which sometimes is more descriptive.

  5. Debora Wilder says:

    I have to agree with you about the Bookmobile. It parked four doors down the street from my house every other Saturday. I always had my books stacked by the front door and would be watching out the window. As soon as it was in sight I was on my way. I was usually the first customer at the door when the librarian opened it. She got so she knew me and my sisters. She told us that if there was anything we were looking for that wasn’t on it to just tell her and she would make sure she had it the next time she came.

  6. Merry says:

    Drive In movies. I think they used to have $5 carload night.

  7. Karen G says:

    My mom still goes to a gas station where the attendant pumps the gas for you in Cohoes, NY (once called the All-America City). It’s the only one around my area that I know of. We also have a skating rink still open, Guptill’s in Latham, NY. It’s been operating since 1950. Boy, what memories and fun times I had there back in the 70s.

    Are there still any five and dime stores around? My mom, sister and I used to work in one in the city. My mom and sister worked in Kresge, I worked in Fishman’s and also had cousin who worked in Woolworth’s. All three stores were together on one street.

    • Amy says:

      Those were fun stores. Many of them were already old when I was a child, and that was part of their appeal. I remember finding such interesting little things for sale in the long-forgotten corners.

    • Meredith Sheppard says:

      Kresge and Woolworth…now that brings a nostalgic smile to my face. Ah, the good old days!

    • David O. says:

      I guess if we’re talking Guptill?s (I grew up in East Greenbush) we might as well mention the good ol’ American mall. Crossgates (Albany, NY) will always hold a special place in my heart. Here’s a video to reminisce: http://youtu.be/9Nm9WHBp3Lg

      • Amy says:

        Wow, that’s a real period piece! The music alone is enough to put me back in that time period. Malls sure don’t hold the place in our society that they once did.

      • Karen G says:

        Wow! Thanks for that video, David O. 30 years ago. I remember alot of the stores that are no longer around. Crossgates has gotten too big for me and there is no longer stores that I like.

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