If nostalgia was a drug, I’d have overdosed a long time ago.
That warm, albeit deceptive, feeling of memory is something that I’ve leaned into as long as I can remember. Music, time, and old photos have always been catalysts that spike a wave of emotion that would cause me to attach more meaning to a past experience than was necessary or even accurate. But that’s what nostalgia is at its core: a sentimental longing for the past.
As I’ve aged, memories of physical places have become increasingly connected to my feelings of nostalgia. Growing up in Jackson, I can remember certain physical spaces that are now only vague memories, but the feelings associated with those places are overwhelmingly positive – even to the point of causing a tinge of sadness to seep in because I know those places no longer exist in this physical world.
Playing an arcade game at Sears in Old Hickory Mall. Swimming at the VFW. Hitting at the batting cages next to Lions Field. Bowling at Malco Lanes. Attending a team party at Village Inn after a youth soccer season had concluded.
I have snapshots of all those events in all those places even though those buildings have been razed or shuttered. I can still see the cartoon wrestlers in the WWF Wrestling game I played in the arcade. I can remember how the sun set at the pool with a Richard Marx song playing from the speaker. I can smell stale smoke when I think about walking into Malco Lanes on a Friday night after a Little League game next door. I don’t think I actually miss those times, but I definitely can remember the joy they stirred in my 12 year old heart.
My daughter is sixteen and as independent as I’ll allow her to be. Gone are the days of us palling around together around Jackson on a summer day. We had our go-to’s of Jackson staples where we liked to pass the time when she was younger. We’d go bowling, roller skating, and swimming – all the childhood basics. But one place that really piqued our interest (and held it for years) was the Jackson Escape Rooms.
For the uninitiated, an escape room is a themed room where participants are locked inside and are tasked with solving puzzles, riddles, and performing minor physical tasks in order to escape the room within the time allowed – somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes. My daughter, Jordan, was about 8 years old the first time we played an escape room in Jackson.
Before she moved to Jackson full time two years ago, Jordan would spend her summers and school holidays here. I would spend every other weekend in Texas. It was difficult, but it worked. As Jordan got a little older, keeping her entertained during the summers became more and more challenging. Because she didn’t live here, she didn’t have any friends to hang out with or invite over. I was her sole form of entertainment – six weeks with dad during the summer. Two weeks of winter break. Spring break. Thanksgiving.
One July afternoon, I saw a mention of Jackson Escape Rooms on social media and wondered if an eight year old could handle it. I called JER and they assured me that she would be fine and have fun, but I called my parents up and invited them along for moral support.
Two senior citizens, a middle aged man, and an 8 year old girl walk into an escape room…
After being locked in the easiest room available, we found ourselves a couple steps short of escaping. We didn’t care. We had laughed so much and engaged our brains so much that the joy was in the interaction, not in the escape (or lack thereof). And, on that day, we discovered a place that we would continue to revisit over and over again.
A summer afternoon trying to catch a serial killer. A cold day on Christmas break searching for hidden money in Fenn’s Cabin. Trying to solve the chemical equation for a special antidote. We were players in all these scenarios, but never once escaped. And, that was more than okay.
Last weekend on Mother’s Day, my daughter and my parents and I headed east across North Highland, punched our code into the gated parking lot of the old Jackson High, and walked into Jackson Escape Rooms one last time.
We picked the room we tried on our very first visit eight years earlier. Once again, we were told it was the easiest one.
The room was different this time, though. It was more narrow, but the puzzles were the same. A sense of familiarity wafted its way through our minds and inconsequential memories came to life once again. We remembered clues from that first visit and started making our way easily through the room, solving puzzles at a record pace (for us). Of course, we asked for a couple of clues along the way, but this time we actually made it out with time to spare. It was the first time we had ever escaped! But it didn’t feel any better than the times we hadn’t. The fun was never about the escape.
As Jackson continues to progress and grow, there will be new businesses and entertainment ventures that captivate generations long after my daughter is grown and gone. She’ll never know what the Sears Arcade REALLY meant to me because she couldn’t experience it the way I did. Her children will only hear stories of the Jackson Escape Room from her because that’s what will be left of it – a hazy memory full of warm feelings from her childhood.
At the end of May, JER will close its doors for good. For eight years, it provided a different type of entertainment option for people in Jackson and branded itself in our collective family memory. And therein lies its true value – reincarnating itself over and over in our stories long after it ceases to exist.
If we can remember anything as Jackson continues to develop and progress, let’s remember the places that have depth and personal meaning; the places that make our community feel like a community. There’s value in those places and value in the memories they help create.
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