A few summers ago, while my husband, Dave, and I were in Colorado for a camping trip, we were driving the backroads near Buena Vista, searching for some hot springs we’d read about, when I noticed a giant movie screen in the distance.
“It’s a drive-in theater!” I cried, bouncing in my seat. “Did your family go to the drive-in when you were a kid?”
A reverse bucket list, I told myself, would be different.
And so I began trying to make up for his missing out on this experience by sharing my memories in great detail. I described the playground at the drive-in where all the kids had hung out while we waited for the movie to begin. Then I explained how we had trekked to the concession stand, first for a hot dog, then a giant pickle, then finishing off with a box of Milk Duds. Except when money was tight. On those nights we’d eaten the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches my mother had packed at home. I recounted how I’d worn my pajamas and always fallen asleep in the back seat during the second feature.
As we finally turned onto the road running past the movie screen, I saw that the drive-in was still in business.
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou
“Let’s go tomorrow night!”
Dave had to be convinced, so I rattled off the arguments. “What if I never get the chance to go to a drive-in again?” “It only costs five dollars.” “The dogs can go, too.”
Finally, I got my way, and on the following night, I found myself sitting with Dave in our pickup truck at the Comanche Drive-in Theater, windows down, dogs sleeping in the back seat, and rum in our Cokes. The picture was just barely out of focus, and the sound was a little muddled—although now you listen through the car radio rather than those old timey squawk boxes. It certainly wasn’t what we’ve come to expect at today’s posh multiplexes, but as the cool breeze blew across my face and I could smell the smoke wafting in from the joint the people in the car next to us were smoking, I tilted my seat back and enjoyed the experience.
Later that night, as I was lying in bed, I realized I needed to have more small adventures like this, to re-experience the things that have filled my life with joy at various stages. What I needed was a reverse bucket list.
I realized I needed to have more small adventures like this.
I’ve never been a fan of the bucket-list concept. Instead of putting something on a list, I know I should just go ahead and do it, and if I’m not willing to take immediate action, I’ll probably never get around to it anyway. I learned this about myself because, for a brief period in my mid-50s, I started my daily to-do list each morning with “lift dumbbells.” At the end of the day, when every other item was crossed through, “lift dumbbells” would remain, taunting me. Then one day, I wrote instead, “Go shopping for blouses with sleeves.” That item got crossed off at the end of the day.
A reverse bucket list, I told myself, would be different. Not a list of things that I’ve never done and will probably never do, but a list of things I’ve already done and want to do again. There were many things I couldn’t put on my list: eat my mother’s fried chicken, flirt with strange men at bars, or wear a bikini. (Technically, I could still flirt with strange men at bars or wear a bikini, but I probably shouldn’t.)
Recently, I searched for “reverse bucket list” on the web to see if I was the only one to come up with this brilliant idea. Of course I got dozens of hits, but they all seemed to suggest making lists of accomplishments. This makes as much sense to me as making a list of things I’ll never do. I think my idea for a reverse bucket list is far better—a redo of the things I didn’t appreciate at the time or gave up too easily or simply forgot, like drive-in movie theaters.
Doing the List
In the past year, I’ve completed several of the items on my reverse bucket list:
- I bought a basket for my bicycle. I’d bought the bicycle in 2015 for $120 at Target. She was the first bike I’d had in three decades, cream colored with brown accents and saddle stitching. I named her Loretta Schwinn. When I was a kid, all my bike baskets had been metal, but a metal basket didn’t seem right for Loretta. I searched for weeks until I found the perfect shade of brown wicker. Now I can carry my phone, my beach towel, or a bouquet of wildflowers.
- I ate a bowl of Chocolate Malt-o-Meal. While regular Malt-o-Meal remains a staple on the grocery store shelves, the chocolate version has disappeared. Thank goodness for Amazon. Unfortunately, Chocolate Malt-o-Meal isn’t as I remembered from my childhood. The sweetness was cloying, and the chocolate artificial. I had one bowl before pouring the rest of the box into the trash.
- I went two-stepping. When I married a man who wouldn’t dance, I somehow didn’t realize that I was giving up dancing. For years, I was resigned to occasional turns on the dance floor at weddings with other partners, but it always left me longing for more. Luckily, I’ve convinced my husband that on my birthday he has to do whatever I want, and last year I signed us up for two-step lessons at a local dance studio followed by a night at a honky-tonk to practice. My husband still isn’t a fan, but that’s okay because I have another birthday coming every year.
Here’s what’s left on the list:
- Play “Fur Elise” on the piano. My mother ended my piano education when I was in the fourth grade after only two years of lessons but endless hours of nagging me to practice. This time not only will I practice, I’ll practice every day.
- SCUBA dive in St. Croix. I gave up diving after my son was born, and while I know I’ll never dive the shipwrecks off of North Carolina or the depths of the Caribbean again, I’d like to return to where I started. I want to walk into the water from the beach, swim to the wall, drop 40 or 50 feet, and hang out with the fish and the rays and the turtles.
- Go to the state fair of Texas. When I was growing up, we went to the Taylor county fair every year, but every now and then, we drove to Dallas for the state fair in October. I’d like to once again ride the Ferris wheel, play some carnival games (even though I know I can’t win the giant stuffed dog), and eat a corndog. Most of all, I’d like to walk through the exhibit halls to look at all the beautiful hand-sewn quilts and the jars of pickles and be reminded of all the women in my family who came before me.
- Cross the Rio Grande at Boquillas and ride a burro to a cantina on the Mexican side for a bottle of Coke. The first time I made the river crossing, I was 12 and on my first family vacation with my dad, stepmother, and stepbrother. It was also the first time I left the United States, even if only for a couple of hours. (On the NextTribe trip to Marfa and Big Bend in early December, we will be doing just this.)
- Chase down an ice cream truck and buy an ice cream sandwich.
Wait. Is that music coming from the street outside? It sounds like “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Now where did I put my purse?
A version of this story was originally published in May 2019.