Wilsons General Store - The Regenerative Benefits of Nostalgia
The whole scene grabbed me. I stared at the exterior of the c. 1847 store. It was beautiful. Inside the store, the potbellied stove sat center stage and the long wooden plank floorboards pulled me inside. I am partial to general stores. When I am in and around them, I feel good, but it wasn't until this particular assignment that I began to understand why.
I was working on a video project commissioned by Visit Hagerstown, and my son Aidan was helping me. When we walked into Wilsons General Store, sisters Patty Barnhart and Bonnie Mills, the proprietors of Wilsons, kindly greeted us. The ambiance warmed me as I looked around the store, thinking about how I would frame my shots and how I wanted to share the story of this place in the video. Some features drew me in further yet — the smell of a building that is more than a century old and the candy jars lined up on the long wood counter. It was like stepping back in time.
When I turned and saw the "classic horizontal" Coke cooler, that was the tipping point for me. Waves of excitement and memories from childhood washed over me. The joy of these memories surfacing and the people and places they connected me to all came as a surprise. They felt significant, yet I cannot remember the last time I thought about these moments. The rush of energy practically demanded I declare all of this aloud. What I felt standing there, remembering was as real — maybe, even more, real - than the current moment itself.
I exclaimed to my son, "Look at this old-time candy and this old soda cooler." "Aren't these cool?" I asked. I explained how they are special and rare. It was a scene from my youth, back when my grandmother carted me around the hills along the narrow dirt roads of Tucker County, West Virginia, visiting family tucked away in remote hollows. It was an impromptu hike with my mom and our dogs on one our Sunday adventures. Either way, somehow, we would stumble upon one of these cool old stores, which held everything a young boy could hold in his mind, and venture inside. A welcome respite from the choking dust of the road and an anticipated treasure hunt would unfold inside. Sometimes the front door was guarded by scowl-faced old men, sitting in old chairs in the shade of the room,, an old coffee can spittoon placed between them. Once past the guards, I entered a different world. Somehow the words "Would you like to pick out a piece of candy?" or "Go pick yourself out a soda from the cooler" were like magic back then. A simple pleasure, but also the wonder of the store and discovery of what its old walls contained within. The joy of anticipation and the exchange between giver and receiver exceeded the enjoyment of the gift itself. I remember the hands of my grandmother and my mother offering the treat, topping off the day's fun and challenges with a cold soda or sweet hard candy.
These memories flowed through my mind, and I felt a solid sense of connection to where I came from, who I came from, and how this informed where I am going in life. However, my excitement and detailed descriptions of my childhood experiences were lost on Aidan. All of my enthusiastic sharing seemed to ricochet off of my son's ears. Even though I was tending to the past, sharing the emotion and excitement of my youth in the present, I could not elicit the same feelings in him. I realized that whatever this feeling is, this nostalgia it cannot be transferred through just the telling of the story. To travel from me to another and share the account of how I experienced the scene, I needed not only to be "there" but also "transport" the listener back in time with me. For that to occur there needs to be a hook, some way for my son to connect meaningfully with my words.
I wondered about how I could convey what it is that I am seeing and feeling (or their equivalent to another) as I relived these rare and somehow special experiences. Research shows "Nostalgia is not merely relevant to one's social past. It has important implications for one's social future" * and "is universally and frequently experienced in part because it plays an important role in psychological health and well-being" ** of people. Nostalgic memories also feature personally meaningful life events, and it is the recalling of these memories that "highlight the meaningful aspects of one's life.”***
When we had finished our filming and sharing in conversation with Patty and Bonnie, I walked over to the soda cooler, lifted the lid, and a refreshing burst of cold air greeted my hand and face. I reached in and pulled out two bottles of sarsaparilla soda. Here was my hook to connect my feeling of nostalgia in this place and have it be a relevant and lived experience for my son. I said to him, "Look at what I found" and his face lit up the dim room. Sarsaparilla and birch beer crafted sodas have been a tradition for us; shared as part of special moments since he was little, during backcountry camping and long wandering road trips.
In the car, as we drove away, we sipped our soda and reminisced about walking for hours in circles but not being "lost," campsites that had turned into streams during flash floods and picking apples in an old abandoned orchard on a frosty morning.
Have you ever been to Wilsons? Do you agree with my impression? What are ways that nostalgia shows up in your life? We would love to know. Please share your comments below.
Location: 14921 Rufus Wilson Rd.
Clear Spring, MD 21722
Hours: Wed-Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 12-5pm
Tourism Information in the Region:
Other information on Wilsons General Store: Mountain Discoveries Magazine
* Schooley, Patricia. "2 – Wilson Bridge 1819 and Wilson Store c1847, east of Clear Spring, MD." This article appeared in the Herald Mail Newspaper, Sunday, June, 4 , 1989 the 2nd in a series of articles by Patricia Schooley about the historical homes of Washington County. Web. <http://washingtoncountyhistoricaltrust.org/wilson-bridge-1819-and-wilson-store-c1847-east-of-clear-spring-md/>.
** Routledge, C., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., & Juhl, J. (2013). Nostalgia as a resources for psychological health and well-being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7, 808–818. 10.1111/spc3.12070
*** Abeyta, Andrew A., et al. "Looking Back to Move Forward: Nostalgia as a Psychological Resource for Promoting Relationship Goals and Overcoming Relationship Challenges." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 109, no. 6, Dec. 2015, pp. 1029-1044. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/pspi0000036.
Clarke, Jackie. "Experiential Aspects of Tourism Gift Consumption." Journal of Vacation Marketing 19.1 (2013): 75-87. Print.
Servidio, Rocco, and Ida Ruffolo. "Exploring the Relationship between Emotions and Memorable Tourism Experiences through Narratives." Tourism Management Perspectives 20 (2016): 151-60. Print.
Small, Jennie. "The Absence of Childhood in Tourism Studies." Annals of Tourism Research 35 (2008): 772-89. Print.