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
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
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