Friday, February 1, 2019

Visiting the Wonder Years House

The Wonder Years created a brilliant parallel between generations and time -- it aired from 1988 -1993, yet took place from 1968 -1973. The story was set against the backdrop of that turbulent era, focused of the coming of age of late-wave Boomers in the suburbs and covered the life of Kevin Arnold, as he grew from age 12 to 17. Danica McKellar played his girlfriend, Winnie Cooper, and was born (in real life) the same year I was, and all the actors who played these characters were late-wave Generation X. By design, from the history to the soundtrack, there was a strong connection that Boomers had to this show. And even if also by design, there is something universal about teenage angst, and it created a bond between people my age and the show's characters. Fred Savage, a young Gen Xer, made the show even more relevant to both generations.

Here's The Wonder Years house in Burbank, CA as it is now. I took this photo in late December 2018 when we came to visit this house with a friend. It brought up a lot of coming-of-age, deep emotions for me, as it probably does for anyone who stands in this space. The mild Southern California weather causes this majestic tree to drop its leaves at each passing Christmas even as the early spring buds sprout out at the same time -- like some literal symbol of family trees, and time, and generations. This tree keeps its roots exposed above ground like it has nothing to hide. And what we know of the suburbs and the human situation is that each story is ultimately the same story. The broken souls of Vietnam came home to the suburbs of America, and their own scars often became the scars of their children, just as their fathers, the soldiers of WWII, came home to the suburbs and did the same a generation before.

The soft light of the afternoon sun shines on the front of the house, warm and gentle, as it came through Harper's Woods, a symbol of firefly-catching childhood innocence in the show in 1988 as it depicted 1968. As the last days of 2018 turned to the days of 2019, the last of the leaves fell from this tree.

Of history that would unfold on this street in real life, and on any suburban street in America, an enormous rift would take place between the Boomers and Generation X that, for the most part, has never really healed. When the final episode of this show comes to an ending, Kevin's older sister, a Hippie Boomer, has a Gen X baby in 1973. Sometimes I hear of a Boomer who bought into the Me-Era of the 1970's or sold out to the Greed is Good Era of the 1980's who later apologized to their Gen X children who were often left to raise themselves, but it seems pretty rare. The current of culture can be alluring, and life is hard for any generation; maybe this show was a pause that we took once a week, for a few years, where we could momentarily empathize with each other. In the episode where Kevin goes to work with his father and sees the depressing job that makes him the tense and angry middle-aged man he is, it is a reflection on understanding as a path to forgiveness that spans the experience of all generations. As a person who often finds myself in generational conversations, I have noticed a pattern in our lives: when someone can actually just say the words, "I'm sorry" it speeds the forgiveness process by a lot -- reducing it to months or years rather than decades or lifetimes.

To quote the end of the pilot episode about growing up in the suburbs that applies to the way the 1960's yielded to the 1970's, and the way the 1980's gave way to the 1990's:

"We know that inside each one of these identical boxes, 
with it's Dodge parked out front, 
and it's white bread on the table, 
and it's TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, 
there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love,
there were moments that made us cry with laughter, 
and there were moments...of sorrow and wonder." 


(c) 2018/19 photos and writing by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Visiting the House from E.T.

The house from E.T. backs up to the steep and extraordinary San Gabriel  mountain range in Tujunga, CA. We had the chance to see it recently under a blue afternoon sky which was more than exciting and a little surreal. This picture was taken the week of Christmas 2018.

Whenever I am visiting one of these iconic Gen X places, like one that I first saw on the silver screen in my most formative years, my heart speeds up and I feel like some kind of electricity is connecting time and space in the ground below my feet.

Below is me in my Atari shirt in front of the house rocking it like it's 1982. I was born the same year as Drew Barrymore, so I looked a lot like her with the exact same string-tied blond pigtails when I saw the movie. She and Henry Thomas became a part of our hearts the first moment we all saw them in this house.

Decades have passed and the house hasn't changed much. These trees were just seeds in the ground as the film was being made - this was a brand new neighborhood at the time of the filming. These trees grew up as Gen X did. 

When we arrived at this suburb, it looked instantly recognizable as the place where Elliott and company trick-or-treated all those years ago. It felt strangely and unexpectedly bittersweet, like I was visiting one of my old neighborhoods. 

After we went and saw the house, the kiddos watched a viewing of E.T. in our friends' Burbank home theater while we had dinner and wine. On their tree was an ornament that was bought right after the movie came out. Another little unexpected snapshot of history to end a perfect day.

This was the gift box I put together before the trip to thank our friends for inviting us over (and for the kids to snack on during the movie). I took an empty box that had been full of Hallmark Christmas cards, put in some Reese's Pieces, and small cans of soda. I put in some microwave popcorn and my daughter drew and colored a Speak & Spell and taped it to the front. I cut out a white piece of construction paper for the moon and used a black marker for the trees. 

Here's to every magical moment we experienced as a generation. Here's to the greatness of story and how our own stories are a part of a greater collective story. As the last light-filled moments of the holiday season linger on, and as a new year begins, here's to hope that at any given moment, between the flicker of the stars, the universe may reach out to us in a way we never would have expected. 

For M.B. 

As a fun tidbit: 

Later the same year the movie came out, the Atari game for E.T. wasn't exactly what everyone had hoped for since the programmer didn't have much time to work on it, and the overstock of hundreds of cartridges were buried for years in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. A few years back, many of the games were pulled back out and sold on eBay.  Read more here: CNN Article on buried E.T. Atari games

(c) 2019 all rights reserved, pictures by Chloe and Telly Koffas