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Finding joy in this January | Chuck's World


Last updated 1/18/2017 at Noon

I was born in the second half of the 20th century, as were most of you. Not all of you, of course. Just in terms of statistics, there are more of us under the age of 67 than over, that's all. I mean no offense.

I was born close enough to the midpoint of the last century to have some sense of the world that existed immediately before I did, and the people who lived in it. And it's conceivable that I could live to see the middle of the 21st century (it's not all that conceivable to me).

I can stretch out my figurative arms from my birth year and touch three centuries, then; the last veteran of the Civil War died just a few years before I was born. Growing up, I knew several people who were born in the 19th century.

But I was a child, and I have an interest in remembering such things, and I’m going to be dead anyway. No one is alive, or documented to be alive, who remembers what the world was like in 1900. By the time 2051 rolls around, and assuming I’m still here and functioning reasonably normally, stories from my childhood will be like "Little House on the Prairie."

This nudges my mortality a bit, and my sense of urgency. I have vague memories of dusty stories being shared by my older relatives, stories I'm now straining to recall. Stories of traveling by horse and buggy, not automobiles. Movies costing a nickel, skies free of airplanes, telephones rare and even more rarely used for anything but local calls.

I'm going to cut my younger self some slack here. An 8-year-old's interests rarely extend to listening, particularly to ancient relatives who would have been happy to bore me for hours with tales from their childhoods. I wish I'd paid more attention, but I understand. It's just a mild regret, but it's a regret.

And it lingers still, and informs more than a few of my passions. History is one, and in particular the era in which I was born. The decade of the 1950s comes with an aura of uniqueness, helped along by television and film depictions of a prosperous, peaceful time.

This isn't what interests me, knowing as I now do that the good old days were never quite that good. If you're going to paint a gauzy picture of that time, complete with suburban bliss and Nat King Cole on the soundtrack, you have to be fair and include a water fountain marked "Whites Only." It's complicated.

But it was a tremendous time for scientific and cultural advancement, and many of the ordinary aspects of contemporary life sprung from the 1950s. In 1955 alone, Disneyland opened, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald's franchise, Scrabble and "Rock Around The Clock" were both introduced, and the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series for the first time.

It feels like the beginning of so many things, only one of which was me.

It was the year my parents got married, barely 18 and newly graduated from high school. My brother was born a year and change later, and I came along a couple of years after that, followed by my sister in 1960. My parents had three children under the age of 4 when they were 23 years old. I start to sweat a little just typing that sentence.

I mean, I'm glad they did. In retrospect.

And as horrifying as it sounds to my modern ears, two teenagers starting a family and just hoping they could manage to keep everyone clothed and fed, it paid off in obvious ways, and perhaps some not so obvious.

What I'm getting at is relative youth, meaning that as I grew up and grew older, my parents were still very young, often the youngest ones in my little cohort of high school friends. All three of us were adults and in college by the time they were in their early 40s.

We lost my dad in 2003, barely 67, a lifetime of smoking cigarettes catching up as it often does, and I watched my mother grieve for the love of her life, after half a century of being a couple.

I also saw her eventually move on and adjust, volunteering, helping elderly neighbors, doting on her grandchildren and then great-grandchildren, still in her 70s. She is the proprietor of our family's collective scrapbooks, and the one who plans the big birthday parties, which made her a little uncomfortable this past weekend.

It took all three of her children a year to plan this, something Mom would have organized in a week, and none of us imagined we could match her skills, but last Saturday friends and family, near and sort of far, came together in Scottsdale to wish her a happy 80th birthday.

"Remember," says the Wizard to the Tin Man, "hearts are not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others." That's just a screenwriter's shot at profundity, and problematic for all sorts of reasons, but I found some truth in it this past weekend.

Of course I love my mom. It's possible I didn't know exactly how many other people loved her, too. And now I do, and no one needs to pass judgment on her heart. That part is settled, and we had a party to prove it.


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