The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 22, 2013

Jeanne Looper Smith, guest columnist: Car ride conjures up memories of a simpler time

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” — Peter DeVries, American editor and novelist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I’ve written dozens of nostalgia-filled columns for The Joplin Globe about growing up in Joplin in the 1950s and early ’60s, so rereading Eckhart Tolle’s book about the power of now and the importance of living in the present moment caused me to pause and take a look at my relationship with the past.

Because I’m on the committee that’s planning next year’s 50th reunion of our Joplin High School class of 1964, I’m often revisiting the “good old days” in my memory. As I’m chairing the decorating committee for the event, my husband, Ross, and I took a day trip from our home in Kansas City to a store just outside of Columbia called Nostalgiaville.

As we hit the highway to buy mementos of midcentury kitsch that will serve as table decorations for next year’s half-century milestone, colorful recollections of road trips with my parents in our black-and-white 1956 Plymouth careened in and out of my consciousness.

Here the juxtaposition of the present and the past came into focus. The cozy, heated seats of our little Fiat 500 on which we sat during our drive to the store — one that specializes in the past — are in sharp contrast to the chilly, clear plastic covering on the bench seats of my family’s big-finned Plymouth Belvedere, our vehicle for hitting the highways in the mid-1950s.

Beltless, my brothers and sister and I slid around in the back seat like greased pigs as we strained to read the Burma-Shave signs that passed by the open windows.

The giant billboards of today bear no resemblance to those small rhyming signs that drew the attention of passing motorists who were curious to learn the inevitable punch line.

The Burma-Shave signs that began as an advertising program in 1925 and ended in 1963 are a piece of Americana that harkens back to a time when car trips were filled with games of “red barn,” “counting cows” and the repetitive question: “Are we there yet?”

Ross and I arrived at Nostalgiaville to find a treasure-trove of signposts from popular culture of the fabulous ’50s. We drove home with a back seat full of items that will help re-create that era at the reunion, where “fellow travelers” from those school years in Joplin will reminisce about our time together so long ago.

Though nostalgia may indeed have a rosy glow through the rearview mirror of time, and even though I write about it, I don’t live in the past.

But there are times when the memories of another time refuse to take a back seat to the present moment. And sometimes, that short outing to the past is a trip worth taking.

Jeanne Looper Smith grew up in Joplin and now lives in Kansas City, Mo. Share your memories of Joplin with her at

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