Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Nostalgia of McDonalds

One day after Kindergarten, my Grandma picked me up from school and took me to McDonald's for the very first time.  I remember it like it was yesterday.... 

It was April - chilly in the morning, but by recess, it had warmed up enough for me to take off my sweater and play on the monkey bars. Of course, when you take your sweater off in Kindergarten, you have to put it away, in your cubby. 

That's always the hardest part to remember because it feels so very far away from the playground and you could lose your spot if you leave. 

Then, I remember standing in line at the door waiting for the bell to ring, running through my checklist... lunch pail, thermos, sweater (pause for effect), note we're supposed to take home about Open House and "bring back signed"... Got it, got it, if I forget it, I will get into big trouble, got it, got it, got it... good.

The bell rang and to my surprise, my Grandma was standing right outside the door, on the side so she didn't get trampled by the kids, though we were supposed to exit the building in single-file line.

"Where Mommy?" 

From what my Grandma said, she had to take my little brother to the doctor and that we were going to have a special afternoon and go get a treat. At that moment, I felt very special. Then, the news. "We were going to see Ronald McDonald."

Just the way she said his name, I knew he was important. 

We pulled into the driveway and got a park right in front because my Grandma had those handicap plates, which let us park near the door. That was very nice. I knew that I liked conveniences right then and there. 

We walked through the doors and it was like going to the Circus! It was bright and colorful and clean - very clean. I wondered what it would be like to rollerskate on those shiny floors. 

I got the Fish Fillet Meal! 

That was the best afternoon of my young life!

I thought McDonalds had existed since the dawn of time and that only special people got to go there for a treat. 

As for those Yellow Arches, every kid knows exactly what they are... 

Magical Bendy French Fries!

Nostalgia is a funny thing. No two people integrate McDonald's or other popular culture objects as part of their self-identity in the same way, but signs and symbols communicate with us in very profound ways, even if we're over 40 and can no longer tolerate the stuff.

I recently had the distinct privilege having the author of The Evangelical Hamburger, Professor Emeritus Asa Berger, share with me his account of the early days when McDonald's first came on the scene: 

"It probably all started in 1962 or 1963 when I was walking down a street in Minneapolis and noticed that what had been an empty lot now had a small building in it. It was my first encounted with golden arches and McDonald's. At the time, hamburgers cost thirteen cents - or something like that. I bought one and ate it. 

I spent a bit of time observing the operation. I noticed that the clerks had a set routine of questions they asked, I saw a sign on the side of the building indicated how many people had eaten McDonald's hamburgers since it was founded, and I couldn't help but wonder about the symbolism of the golden arches. 

I concluded that McDonald's had the same dynamics of evangelical Protestant churches and wrote an article for The Minnesota Daily titled "The Evangelical Hamburger." I saw a ritual, I saw religious symbolism in the arches, I saw (in the sign) membership in a group or congregation that is constantly growing, and thus argued that McDonald's hamburgers symbolized something of enormous importance. The article caused a bit of a scandal, since a number of people in Minneapolis thought it was sacrilegious." 

After my son mispronounced Arthur Asa Berger's name as Arthur Awesome Burger, the name has since stuck with our family. My daughter helped me create this design for him (above photo). 

For my readers who, like me, love a good laugh, you'll enjoying learning that Arthur Awesome Burger has been best friends with one William Fry for 40+ years.

I guess burgers and "fry's" really do go together! 

No comments: