Happy new year: Looking backward, looking forward

Over 60

Reams have been written about the turning of the page, and here are a few from out of the past — proving that the more things change the more they remain the same for us mere mortals:

Brooks Atkinson, sardonically: “Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.”

Sarah Overstreet: “A new year is a clean slate, a chance to suck in your breath, decide all is not lost, and give yourself another chance.”

Brad Paisley, agreed: “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

And the perennial optimist Alfred, Lord Tennyson exclaimed poetically: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.'”

Makes a person wonder: for those of us who were born in the 30s and 40s, could we then glance into the future and predict what the next year would be like – or even dream far ahead to what 2018 might bring? When the “past” was “present”:

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Do you recall the time when you purchased something –anything — and you expected it to last; that was before Henry Ford’s planned obsolescence and shoddy workmanship became de rigueur?

When suspense and thrill came from receiving a personal letter in the mailbox?

When traffic crush (with mostly Detroit made cars) was less and statistics relating to road accidents were almost nonexistent?

When thoughts about the environment were rarely a concern?

When we wondered about “right” and “wrong” and went to church regularly to get answers?

When sex was an unspoken, rarely publicized dirty word?

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We were part of the smallest number of children born since the 1900s — climbing from the Great Depression to face the winds of WWII. We are the last to recall ration books for everything from gas to sugar. We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans. We’d seen cars up on blocks because tires were unavailable. We are the last to see the gold stars in windows; who spent childhood without TV; and on Saturday afternoons went to movies for 10 cents (and sometimes with a penny for candy) to watch Laurel and Hardy, Westerns, cartoons, and action serials.

Telephones were one to a house, often shared as party lines, many hung on the wall in the hallway. Computers were calculators that only added and were hand cranked, but did the job. Typewriters were driven by pounding fingers, throwing the carriage, and changing ribbons. We never dreamed of things like “Google” and “internet.”

Radio networks rapidly expanded from 3 stations to thousands. The news was broadcast on a table radio by Gabriel Heatter and, later, Walter Cronkite. We spent the days with soap operas and nights with live music from popular dance halls and people like Amos and Andy.

As we grew up, the country was exploding with growth. The GI Bill gave returning vets the means to get an education. VA loans fanned a housing boom. As cars became more popular, new highways appeared, speeds went up and the crush was on.

As kids, we weren’t neglected, but we weren’t today’s all-consuming family focus either. Giving “self esteem” was unheard of in favor of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” We often played on our own outside until the street lights came on. Our Dads went to work while our Moms ran the home. We liked and expected that. Suburban “bed apartments” were unknown; we lived in regular neighborhood homes and for companionship often shared our playtime with good friends. We grew up with them until separated by marriages or war preparation.

The Korean War was a dark passage in the early 50s; we learned to duck under desks for air-raid training. Russia built the “iron curtain.” China became Red China. Eisenhower sent the first “advisers” to Vietnam. Castro set up camp in Cuba. Khrushchev came into power. We began to expect war all over again.

Still, we are the last generation to experience an interlude when there were no threats to our homeland. War was over, and the cold war, terrorism, global warming, and economic insecurity had yet to haunt us. We grew up at the best possible time, when things around the world were getting better, not worse. So we became the Silent Generation.

Now more than 99 percent of us are either retired or gone; we feel privileged to have lived in what we believe were the best of times.

And now a New Year brings high tech possibilities beyond imagination, an incomprehensible president, North Korea, climate change, the wall, tax issues, over-publicized sexual harassment, DACA, IRS, FDA – and more, all on the horizon – bravely we go, unto the breach, dear friends, wondering: what next?

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