Over the past couple of years, I’ve assembled from many different sources what I think is an amusing set of observations on getting old – an art that I’ve been working on for the last 30,000 days or so. Having just lost two very valued friends and learning that another two of them are about to pass away as well, I’d like to share this with SWIFT readers. I’m well aware that the topic isn’t of the sort that usually appears here, but I have to admit that I’ve been very lax in contributing to this giddy site, and I promise to appear here much more frequently from now on, since things have now somewhat stabilized for me...
I’m old, and I can prove it just from the fact that I know certain things with which most of you won’t be familiar. Hey, I’m so old that I remember when folks used to eat at a place called “at home,” where Mom cooked every day and when Dad got home from work, the family sat down together at the dining room table. I even remember a time when some parents didn’t own their own house, wear Levis, go to a golf course on Sundays, travel outside of the country or have even one credit card. My parents never drove me to school, can you imagine that? To get to school, I had a ratty old bicycle that weighed probably 50 pounds, and that kept me fit and trim with its one speed – slow. We didn't have a television receiver in our house, it was a big box called a “radio,” and on nights when I got through my homework, we often sat around it until the stations went off the air after playing the national anthem and some sappy poem about God; they came back on at about 6 a.m.
I never had a telephone in my room, or even thought about such a thing. The only phone we had was on a “party line,” and before I dialed, I had to listen to make sure that some people I didn't know weren't already using the line.
I’d never even heard of pizzas, so they were not delivered to our home, as if that were imaginable... But milk was, every morning, and in glass bottles, on the back porch. All newspapers were delivered by boys and just about all boys delivered newspapers, though I didn’t. I was reading, somewhere out of sight.
Back then, movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the movies. There were no movie “ratings” because all movies were responsibly produced for everyone to enjoy viewing, without profanity or violence or anything blatantly offensive.
We didn't even have a steam iron or a clothes dryer. Mom hung the laundry on a rope that was called a “clothes line.” Man, I am old.
But how about you? Do you remember things like candy cigarettes, coffee shops with table side juke boxes, newsreels that played in the theater before the movie, and – later on – TV test patterns that came on at night after the last show? How about peashooters, or a kids’ TV show with Mister Mac or Uncle Don – whatever – maybe even a show called Wonderama...? How about 45 RPM records, “hi-fi's,” metal ice trays with a lever, blue flashbulbs on cameras, Ford Consuls, wash tub wringers, headlight dimmer switches on the floor of the car, and ignition switches on the dashboard? Did you or your brother wear pant leg clips for bicycles without chain guards, and did your Dad use hand signals for a car without turn signals? Did a traffic policeman ever give your dad driving directions and then tip his cap to him?
Along the way to my getting to be older than dirt, I’ve managed to meet just about everyone I ever really wanted to meet – except for Peter Ustinov, Margaret Rutherford, and Nelson Mandela – though the latter is still within my reach… I have to urge my readers to pursue the possibility of meeting such people. It’s rewarding to do so, exchanging a few thoughts with them, just dropping a few words of thanks, saying that you’re glad they inhabited the world when you happened to be around. I’ve had that happen to me, and I’ve never turned away from such an encounter without renewed purpose and inspiration. Rich or poor, old or young, famous or not, everyone has a thing or two to teach others, even though it just may be a bad example of something to shun. I’ve watched stone masons at work, studied my paternal grandfather as he finished off a replacement armrest for an antique chair, and been transfixed by an electrician snaking wires through a wall to fix a chandelier – and I’ve learned from each and every such observation.
Do you encourage kids to pay attention to the world around them? I hope so. The function of the JREF is to equip you to prepare them with the ability to think critically about what they will observe, to wonder whether what they see might be better accomplished, and to thereby improve their own skills. In particular, we want you to be able to inspire the young to become involved, to participate, to be excited, over what they see around them. It can be done, and you can do it.
Now, about that sputtering chandelier you mentioned…