Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Old family stuff

Old Family Stuff

The Best of Times
Throughout modern history, there have been many memorable eight-decade periods. Think of the times of the Magna Carta, or the Renaissance, with its great artists, or the American and French Revolutions, In the 19th century, there were the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation,  the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the rise of the Industrial Age. 
Why these few examples and the eight-decade spans? Because one of my daughters pointed out that my eighty-year life span has included events of much more interest and importance than hers promises to be. Without predicting the future, I can agree that I have been fortunate to live in a period of eighty-plus years since.1926. This period may not be the most eventful and memorable in history, but I’m sure it comes close. 
So I reflect – somewhat randomly. 
In 1926, we were in the middle of the Jazz Age and the stock market boom. Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. Then came the 1929 crash and the Depression, unemployment, hobos, bonus march, dust bowl.  Although too young to comprehend these, I did see the newsreels of breadlines and encounter the occasional hobo.  
And I got to see many of the movies of the 30’s, a memorable decade for Hollywood movies. In came talkies, with The Jazz Singer. Then color. Along with Tom Mix and Zorro at matinees, I saw gangster movies like Little Caesar, Busby Berkeley musicals, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple, The Good Earth, Gone With the Wind, and the early careers of movie stars such as Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart.  
Beginning in the late forties, movies became the cinema, with auteur directors, and we began to see great foreign films such as The Bicycle Thief. And movies continued to be a part of our life, with classics such as Casablanca and The Godfather influencing how we saw the world around us. To this day we enjoy some great movies each year along with at least a few excellent TV programs, such as The Sopranos,
More serious stuff.  During my lifetime, we had the Spanish Civil War, World War II (the “Good War”), Soviet Union occupations and gulags, Mao Tse-Tung’s triumph in China, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Rwanda, and Darfur, as well as 9-11, Iraq and Afghanistan. . We also had FDR, Churchill, independence for India and many other nations, as colonialism waned. Apartheid ended peacefully in South Africa. We saw the beginning and end of the cold war, the break up of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and its opening from the West.. The developed and developing nations have had long-term prosperity, despite a few “bubbles” and recessions. The U.S. became the world’s major power.
Inventions. We didn’t discover fire or the wheel, and evolutionary theory and the theory of relativity preceded me, as well as the invention of the automobile and airplane, But my time has seen nuclear power (and bombs), the double helix, transistor, laser, the God Particle, and transformational growth in car and air travel. We have seen space flight, man visiting the moon,and the Mars Rover. Life is better on earth as a result of advances in medicine such as vaccines, penicillin, CAT scans and MRI’s. 
The inventions of television, the computer, and the internet have changed the way we live and work. Television gives us our news and entertainment, but the computer and internet have completely transformed business, communication and our daily lives. 
Our social fabric and culture have undergone other monumental change: the sixties, the civil rights movement and, perhaps the most profound of all, feminism and recognition of the equality and capability of women. That new role for women immeasurably changed the home and the workplace. Civil rights and women’s rights have reversed the practices of centuries. 
Literature during these eight decades has been wonderful, both informing and engrossing. But I would hesitate to make any claims against decades that include writers such as Dante, or Shakespeare, or Dickens, or Yeats. Nor would I venture into the world of art, trying to compare with Monet or Matisse.
Back to entertainment. I have been privileged to watch great ballets, listen to world-renowned orchestras, and experience inspiring theatre.. I have lived through the heyday of Broadway plays and musicals in the 30’s and 40’s, up to the still vibrant theater of 2007. From Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller to Tony Kushner, from George Gershwin to Andrew Lloyd Weber, from Kaufman & Hart to Mel Brooks.
Music colors our memories. My life span has been blessed with the likes of Paul Robeson, Marion Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Elvis, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. (some of these seen in person) And this is just a short list.
So the past eight decades have been eventful and exciting. Would that I had confidence that each eight-decade span for my children and later generations could match this one. They will undoubtedly see more inventions and advanced space travel. Blogs, facebooks, and information will be plentiful, but breakthrough inventions may be scarce. And they have been left with a seriously degraded earth, with fewer coral reefs, glaciers, and species. My generation has been a poor custodian of our planet. I hope they do better.
Addendum. Brief notes in 2013. We have seen the end of the disastrous Iraq war and the long, inconclusive war in Afghanistan, as well as the establishment of the International Space Station, a housing bubble and worldwide recession, and the Arab Spring. In the U.S. the election of the first African American President, intractable opposition causing gridlock and slow recovery. Also, exposure of excessive spying. The world lost Nelson Mandela. Our culture embraces the Iphone, apps,  Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Google and Amazon continue their quest for world domination.


  • Homer: Just great reading this retrospective of an accomplished man chock filled with integrity and honesty. Thank you.

    Keep up the good work.

    Jack Peppard
    Beaufort, SC
    (843) 592-4924

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:06 PM  

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