Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hollywood House Hunting: Finding The Wonder Years

For Americans, November is a month dedicated to gratitude.  Veterans' Day offers us the chance to be grateful to members of our armed forces, recognizing them for the innumerable sacrifices associated with their service.  And while it is being ever more co-opted by greedy retailers, Thanksgiving is the holiday we have collectively consecrated for counting our blessings.  There is so much for which we at wacky tacky are grateful and one of those things is good, old-fashioned nostalgia.  Nostalgia is the very fuel for the wacky tacky fire and, in a way, this blog is my method of expressing my thanks.  

I've realized lately that I have aged to the point where I am starting to get nostalgic for my own youth.  This has created a weird paradigm because many of the programs I watched in my youth were themselves shows about nostalgia, not the least of which was The Wonder Years.  I find myself layered in compound nostalgia when recalling The Wonder Years because it was a show about family that we always watched together as a family.  Gathered around a hand-me-down television, I remember splitting my time between watching the show and watching my dad watch the show.  Of an age that would have made him a contemporary of Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years allowed my dad the luxury of vicariously reliving some of the sweetest moments of his youth.  Rapt with nostalgia, I can still hear my folks humming along with the music and saying, "Oh, we had a stove just like that," and "We were the first on the block to get a color TV."  Is it absurd to think with a fair measure of confidence that my dad's inner monologue is voiced by Daniel Stern?

The Wonder Years (1988-1993)
We are lucky enough to have reels and reels of 
similarly-styled home movies shot by my grandpa.

For as much affinity as I have for the show, I will admit to never being fully satisfied with the outcome of The Wonder Years.  Call me corny, but *SPOILER ALERT*, Kevin and Winnie should have ended up together.  I am not the kind of person who really appreciates vagaries, loose ends, or complicated endings.  If you ever find yourself wondering what I value in my entertainment, you can be sure that it is pure, unadulterated fantasy.  Don't get me wrong; I'll allow my favorite shows to be riddled with conflict as long as the end sees everything tied up in a nice, neat, symmetrical bow.

As thankful as I am for the nostalgic storytelling of The Wonder Years, I do have a couple of gripes.  Jack should've softened and lived into old age so he could enjoy his grandchildren and celebrate the success of his wife. Wayne should've...well, Wayne did okay; taking over his old man's furniture business was probably as good as it was going to get for Wayne.  I think that life can be so scary, so unpredictable, so messy that, if just for one moment of make-believe, the promise of an Arnold-Cooper union would have made the world seem right.  I want what skeptics view as unattainable perfection; I can appreciate that it might seem naive, but I embrace the belief that if we aim for the moon and fail, at least we'll end up amongst the stars.

The Arnold family at home

At the very least, we'll end up amongst the homes of the stars.  In this case, the home of the Arnold family, nestled in the charming, suburban sprawl of Burbank, CA.  Included on our list of blessings-to-count is the fact that, more than twenty years after the show's finale, the Arnold home remains virtually unchanged.  From the white shutters, to the patchy front lawn, to the hedgerow, that edifice was so comforting in its familiarity that as we pulled up could almost hear Kevin asking Norma, "Hey mom, What's for dinner?"  We could almost see Winnie and Paul waving to us from the curb.

Cynthia giving us her very best Paul Pfeiffer
The roof has been replaced and a few windows have been updated, but number 516 is unmistakably Arnold.

Like many others, I'm fully aware that very rarely does life follow the escapist story lines of our dreams.  I can't say with any surety whether it happens slowly or in the blink of an eye, but I know how the magic veil of childhood innocence is lifted with age.  I know what it is like when, in an instant, life changes forever.  I know loss.  I suppose it is the harsh realities of life that make us more profoundly grateful for the moments of light, and laughter, and joy.  And while I feel like a late-bloomer still working through some of the challenges of finding my place in the world, I must remember to pause and give thanks for my story line thus far.  I must remember the blissful days of one imperfect family gathering to watch and relate to the struggles and triumphs of another imperfect family.  It is funny how something as simple as a television house can elicit such gratitude for my very own wonder years.

The Arnold Family Home
516 University Ave
Burbank, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. Mutual feelings all around for this show. My dad and our family were stationed overseas (Sicily and then Germany) when this show started airing. My grandparents would record hours of television, including this show and send them our way. We would always sit down as a family and have mini Wonder Years marathons when our VHS goodies arrived. My dad would react the same way your dad did and always stated that HE was Kevin Arnold and that the show was about his upbringing. Truly a fantastic series that I as well hold dear to my heart; and yes I agree completely....I hated the series ending!

    1. I'm glad to know that we have The Wonder Years in common but even more glad to hear about you living in Sicily and Germany!!! Please, please, please blog about that; thinking about living abroad, I would love to hear about your experiences!

  2. Thanks for this post. I watched it like your Dad...or really more like your Mom.

  3. I feel exactly the same about the show and my childhood nostalgia.

    1. I'm glad that even though I'm a wee bit older, we're usually on the same page about these things!

  4. we didn't watch that show when i was younger, but i started watching it on netflix this year at Travis' insistence, and boy was i missing out! I LOVE IT. every single thing about it. i'm about halfway through the seasons, and I don't want it to end!

    1. Yipes! I was only joking when I put *SPOILER ALERT* but now I'm glad I did. I am proud of Travis for introducing this show to you; I hadn't really watched it since it originally aired. Re-watching it on Netflix, it took me a little while to reconnect with its pacing but I really do love the show!