Nostalgia transports us to better times

By Sue Curtis

My mom used to be a caterer for business and non-profit luncheons. My help was mostly in the capacity of taste-tester. One of her signature dishes was a grilled Reuben sandwich. When I was a teenager, this wasn’t one of my favorite dishes. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t like it too much. So I actually haven’t ordered, made or eaten a Reuben since then.

Reubens are one of my husband’s favorites, so I’ve had a bite or two; it just doesn’t top my list. Anyway, that makes my behavior last week all the more puzzling. We went to Dublin (Ohio) and ate lunch at a wonderful local café. On a whim, I ordered an appetizer called Irish egg rolls. These turned out to be corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, fried in an egg roll wrapper, with thousand island dipping sauce.

They were scrumptious. From the first bite, I was in heaven. More than the wonderful taste, I was transported back about 40 plus years to my mom’s kitchen table. From the mild sauerkraut to the homemade thousand island dressing, this was her cooking to a “t.”

For the next few days, I was deep into remembering tastes, sounds, and experiences of my childhood. I am sure I bored my husband with stories that were honestly more like snapshots than anecdotes.

My foray into nostalgia culminated with a trip to see one of my brothers and his family. It was a perfect ending to a great week.

I was pretty amazed that one bite of food could bring back so many memories, many unrelated to food. When I looked up “nostalgia” on the internet, I found that there are people out there who actually study nostalgia and its effect on things like loneliness and terror management.

The research says that nostalgic memories often start out kind of sad — like a yearning for better times — but usually end up comforting the individual having them. Before the 1800’s, nostalgia was seen as a mental disorder. Doctors even looked for a nostalgia bone! It took another century for great minds to decide that feeling nostalgic wasn’t a psychological problem at all — it is a normal function of people’s brains to provide self-comfort and to recall good times.

Smell and touch are two senses that often evoke those feelings, as can music and weather. Often our brains link past personal events with specific songs or specific types of weather.

Nostalgia may also explain why some of us are such packrats. We store and often display things like childhood toys, pictures, or possessions of our parents. Several years ago, I was strolling through an antique flea market and came across a Howdy Doody book. Instantly, I was conveyed to my grandmother’s couch, snuggling beside her and listening to her sing, “it’s howdy doody time….”

What makes you nostalgic? Bikes without gears? Guy Lombardo? The smell of play-doh? Catching lightning bugs? Snow drifts? Email me at

By Sue Curtis