Daddy turns the big 7-0 next month. I can’t believe it. He doesn’t seem 70, but then I don’t feel 44 either. This week, for the first time ever, I stopped to think about all of the changes he’s seen in his lifetime. Not just computers and the advancement of technology but world events, too. The U.S. has been involved in five wars just in his lifetime. Five. World War II was just gearing up when he was born in the fall of 1938, and he would be nearly old enough for his little neighborhood country school before it was over. His life would take him from a small farm in rural Illinois to Chicago and back before settling into married life with a wife and eventually three kids. He has seen a lot.
The year he was born Hitler seized control of the German army, invaded Austria and set up a death camp. Franklin Roosevelt was still president, and the minimum wage was 40 cents an hour. Polio was still a threat, and the March of Dimes formed to fight it. Several important things were developed and patented that year, including chlorophyll, Teflon and something DuPont called “nylon”. The first Xerox machine was demonstrated, too. Jim Crow laws were alive and well in the south, but Philadelphia approved the first black woman legislator. And the U.S. finally forbade child labor in factories. While plenty of folks in this region were making and running moonshine, the first breathalyzer was introduced in Indiana. 1938 was the year Seabiscuit beat War Admiral at Pimlico, Orson Welles scared the daylights out of everyone with his broadcast of War of the Worlds, and the Baseball Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown, New York. I doubt daddy’s seven brothers and sisters noticed since they were too busy trying to scratch out a life on the farm. Times were still tough for a lot of folks then. Funny how some things don’t change, even though it seems they do. We’re still fighting wars, the economy has folks in a squeeze and America still loves a scary story and baseball. We’re still battling diseases and drunken driving. But folks are making more money, we can communicate with people halfway around the world with the click of a few keyboard keys and no matter how you vote for president next week, the tickets will include a woman or a black man.
I wonder if daddy ever thinks about this, and I wonder what changes are in store for the rest of my years. Will they be as exciting or much scarier? Is the best yet to come or will our rush for progress overwhelm us? This economy has folks worried, including me, but I do take comfort in the fact that in the last seventy years we have weathered some terrible times in history and come out okay. Seventy years. Wow. It seems so big and yet so small when I consider than I’m more than halfway there.
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