One of the relatively few advantages of growing older is that the higher you climb on the hill of time, the more you can see when you look back over the things you have witnessed.
I was born fourteen and a half years after the Treaty of Versailles which officially ended World War I; eight months and eleven days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first swearing in as President, and in the darkest days of the Great Depression. I had just turned eight when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and remember listening to President Roosevelt’s declaration of war. I was eleven and a half years old when he died. (Because I was too young to yet realize the importance of history, I remember being extremely unhappy that, for three days following his death, all regular radio programming was cancelled, the radio playing nothing but music, forcing me to miss out on my favorite radio kids’ shows.)
I was raised in a world of iceboxes and Dixie-cup ice cream, of three cent postage stamps and twice-a-day mail delivery; of black and white movies with newsreels and travelogs and cartoons and 10 cent bags of popcorn. Railroad trains were pulled by steam engines, and there were no interstates or four-lane highways. Cars had running boards. Laundry was washed either by hand or by machines with wringers. Wet clothing was hung outdoors because driers hadn’t been invented yet. To call someone, you picked up the phone and, if someone else was not already talking on the line you shared with one or two other families, asked the operator to connect you to the number you wanted (“Forest 984”; “Central 255”.) The rotary dial came considerably later.
During the war, gas and food were rationed, and required ration stamps. I remember paper drives, Victory bonds and victory gardens, blackouts and air raid drills (though I lived in the heart of the country). My parents had a small grocery store, and on those very rare occasions when they were able to get a box of Hershey bars, they were kept under the counter and distributed like gold nuggets to only their best customers. And WWII was followed by the never-declared Korean War, the Cold War, and Vietnam.
Fully 2/3 of the population of the world alive at the time of my birth are now dead.
I was born into a world so far different from our current one as to all but unimaginable to most of those alive today. It was a world with no computers, no television, no cell phones or iPods, no drive-by shootings or road rage or school shootings. A world where anyone traveling from America to Europe did so by ocean liner because there was no commercial trans-oceanic air service. Up until the mid-1960s, when you did travel by airplane, it was a Sunday-best occasion, and men always wore suits and ties. Diseases all but eradicated from today’s world—diphtheria, smallpox, polio—regularly claimed tens of thousands of lives. Hospital patients were anesthetized with ether dripped onto a cloth cone held over the patient’s nose and mouth. Even penicillin, though discovered in 1928, was not put to use until WWII. A diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence.
I served in the U.S. military at a time when, as a Naval Aviation Cadet stationed in Pensacola, Florida, a black serviceman could be asked to move to the back of the bus to let whites sit down. And now we have a black president.
I witnessed, via television, the assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King; man’s first landing on the moon, school desegregation, the civil rights movement. Governments and nations rose and fell, as they have throughout time.
Each of us has our own hill of time, and the future is a thick blanket of clouds obscuring the top so we cannot see just how much more hill lies ahead of us. I hope my hill is a very high one, indeed. As may yours be.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).