The cluttered antique shop, a renovated barn in this small Berkshires town in Western Massachusetts, was just what Steve liked. He enjoyed modern life, but in his heart he would always be a guy who listened to old radio programs and paid twenty-five cents for a cartoon, a Three Stooges short, Movietone news, and a double feature while picking up goodies on Free Dish Night.
As he poked through the jumble of old Philco radios, Art Deco toasters, and coal hods, he remembered the sights and sounds of 1940s America: walking to the soda fountain and ordering a root beer float; listening to Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade while reading Mutt & Jeff and Gasoline Alley in the New York Times or Daily Bugle or Post; heading over to Ebbets Field and watching the Dodgers or visiting Yankee Stadium to see Joe DiMaggio during his 56-game hitting streak, or Ted Williams of the visiting Red Sox hitting over .400, neither feat duplicated decades later. There were fireside chats on the radio by FDR and pretty girls in flouncy skirts and delicate nylons, the new material developed by DuPont, and destined to be scarce during the War. Eleanor Roosevelt was all around the country, until even The New Yorker satirized her wanderlust by the famous cartoon of the miner exclaiming that she was coming their way down in the mines!
A poster for Coney Island Hot Dogs curved his lips in a smile. He had plenty of good memories at the amusement park in its heyday, taking the El to the park and stepping off the train, smelling the salt air while hearing the cry of the seagulls. There would be the snap of Nathan’s hot dogs and the sweet crispness of onion rings, and Steve could feel happy as he rode the rollercoaster and the Ferris wheel and enjoyed the wind in his hair and the sun on his face.
He grinned as he saw piles of Life and The Saturday Evening Post magazines, flipping through them as he soaked up the days of his youth.
He wasn’t declaring them better. Certainly attitudes toward women, minorities and gays were far better now. People were healthier and better-educated, the technology was more sophisticated, and there were a bewildering array of choices in everyday life from socks to groceries.
As he turned the yellowing pages, women in elaborate upswept waves and curls and men in crewcuts or slicked-back hair smiling at him, he knew that a lot of things were better now.
But not everything.
There was a sweetness to his memories, a simpler time in truth and not just cliché. There was a civility in society lost now, rudeness and four-letter words and vulgarities splashed over the airwaves and on T-shirts of people walking down the street, coarsening the culture. Freedom of expression was easier now, but Steve regretted the loss of civility.
He put down The Saturday Evening Post and moved on to a jumbled corner with wartime posters on the walls. There was the famous World War I recruiting slogan, Uncle Sam Wants You!, a stylized Lady Liberty holding the torch aloft while urging the reader to buy bonds; Rosie the Riveter, and so many colorful posters that brought a smile to his face.
Suddenly he stopped and stared at the last poster.
& & & & & &
Tony entered the antique shop. He had been in a deep conversation with the man who owned the local repair shop, their love of tinkering keeping the dialogue going. Steve had left with a grin, heading for the barn down the street, right on the edge of town.
Though Tony was a glass-and-steel modern kind of guy, he liked old things, too. Taking apart old cars and motorcycles were favorite pastimes of his, and he had an appreciation for the past. He’d spent enough hours watching the old newsreels of Cap before the Avengers had found him, after all.
He indulged Steve’s occasional nostalgia. He couldn’t imagine waking up from decades stuck in the ice to a whole new world and feeling like an anachronism. Sometimes Steve just needed to remember the good things.
This trip was just for the two of them, taking in the upper New York state and New England foliage as they meandered without a plan, just driving and stopping wherever their fancy struck. Their lives as Avengers were like Steve’s time in the War: often hectic and dangerous, and they needed a break like this.
Tony weaved his way through old phonographs and rocking chairs and milk cans as he casually searched for Steve. He saw a pile of magazines and paged through a copy of Life, appreciating the old black-and-white photography. He put the copy down and ambled down the aisle, studying the posters as he lost himself in Buy War Bonds! and other government propaganda.
He saw Steve and was about to call out when he spotted the poster in front of which his lover was transfixed. Swallowing, he came up behind Steve and rested a hand on one broad shoulder.
“I remember the day this was taken. We had just broken up a spy ring and were feeling pretty good about ourselves. It took us all day for the shoot, but we had such a good time.” Steve briefly closed his eyes. “We went to Coney Island after the shoot.” He opened his eyes. “I treated him to Nathan’s hog dogs, cotton candy…” Steve’s voice trailed off.
Tony squeezed his shoulder and gently led Steve away.
A star-spangled Captain America and Bucky smiled out from the poster, Cap’s arm around Bucky while holding his shield, Bucky’s gloved fists on his hips. An artist-drawn eagle hovered over the two of them as Buy U.S. War Bonds! was their message, happiness frozen in time.