Old People Have Seen Bad Stuff Before. But.
Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.
----“Four Dead in Ohio,” Neil Young 1970.
Old people need to give perspective to young people who are worried.
I’m 77. When I was four and five, my father brought home the papers with frightening photos of bombing and invasions, bodies washing up on beaches. We really did not know how World War Two was going to end.
In 1945, my mom learned her two Irish-Belgian cousins had died in Bergen-Belsen after being imprisoned by the Nazis for resistance. We began to hear what had happened to Jews and others labelled as outsiders.
When I was in grade school, there was a “police action” in Korea. Life Magazine ran frightening pictures of our soldiers patrolling icy mountains. The Soviets developed the atomic bomb. I had the attic room in my family house and I lay awake at night figuring if the Russians bombed Queens, I’d be the first to get it.
My mother, a loyal Catholic talked with scorn about a priest on the radio named Father Coughlin, who had made stuff up about President Roosevelt -- who actually did help make America great again. You could look it up.
My parents talked with contempt about a senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy who held up foolscap with “evidence” about thousands of alleged American Communists and a politician from California named Richard Nixon who slandered opponents.
When I was in high school, the Supreme Court passed Brown v. Board of Education. Black children began attending school with white children in the South. Whites spat and cursed and threatened.
When I was just out of college, there was a showdown with Soviet ships carrying atomic missiles toward Cuba. For several days that fall, the world held still as President Kennedy talked the Soviets into turning the ships around.
My first vote for president was for the peace candidate -- Lyndon Johnson -- who promptly escalated the war in Vietnam. Today, a friend who fought in Vietnam goes back to West Point every Memorial Day to honor 25 classmates who died after – after -- Johnson and his defense secretary Robert Strange McNamara had what my friend calls “their little epiphany” that the war was not quite working.
In the spring of 1963, in the Mets’ clubhouse in Pittsburgh, Maury Allen and I chatted with Jesse Gonder and Alvin Jackson, both African-American, about the March on Washington, which we had all watched in our hotel rooms that day. Maybe the country was getting somewhere.
On Nov. 22, I was playing touch football when JFK was killed. I was driving north through Georgia (with a black friend) when Martin Luther King was killed in 1968. I was with the Mets when they refused to play during the funeral for Robert F. Kennedy, the senator from New York.
Those were times when it felt the center would not hold. I was on a trip with the Yankees in 1970 after the U.S. invaded Cambodia, same spring the National Guard massacred four young people at Kent State University. For a few days, my knees did not work when they played the pre-game National Anthem. Today, I think this is called Kaepernick’s Syndrome.
In 2001, I was about to head downtown when the planes were flown into the World Trade Center. In 2003, I was covering a basketball tournament, feeling a terrible ache in my stomach because President George W. Bush was really going to war in Iraq with the help of senators like Hillary Clinton from my state. More recently I watched as the McConnells and Boehners and Cantors and Ryans smirked in defiance of a black President.
You see a lot if you are blessed to live a long time in this wonderful country. I would tell that to children who are scared of the current vile get-him-out-of-here mood
(But. Have I ever seen the mix of ignorance and rage and bigotry and lack of impulse control that I see in this new man, empowered by Americans? That is a different question.)
11/20/2016 02:21:29 pm
Thanks GV. You just wrote my symbolic auto-biography, me and Loretta Lynn have something in common. And Ray Charles' America the Beautiful is an affirmation. "Keep the Faith."
11/20/2016 04:01:24 pm
Yeah, you and Loretta have a lot in common. Thanks. GV
11/20/2016 08:57:55 pm
Of course, George, the issue becomes is this all cyclical, or is the US republic, like the New England town meetings that ended several years ago after more than 200 years, going down like allover extended empires before it?
11/20/2016 09:24:59 pm
Nonsense, Hansen. I can and will affirm the New England town meeting is alive and well! God bless it.
11/20/2016 11:27:24 pm
Brian is correct. Town meeting are alive and well in Massachusetts.
11/21/2016 09:02:47 am
What a nice, civil discussion. Thank you, all.
11/22/2016 01:21:50 am
11/22/2016 08:44:02 am
Bruce, thanks for the reminder. I can remember our friend running from the parking lot to tell us, on the touch football field, that JFK had been shot. We -- a gaggle of night-shift Newsday reporters and a couple of off-season Mets keeping in shape -- stopped playing and went home.
11/22/2016 09:12:49 am
11/22/2016 10:40:53 am
Keep the light on, dude.
11/22/2016 10:46:30 am
11/22/2016 11:54:33 am
Bruce, that is true, but think of the time span for old people. I spent a lot of time (near closing hours, particularly) with a man who was born in 1890, Casey Stengel. He spoke in the vernacular of a 19th century man, in 1962-65. A small player was a Singer Midget. (They portrayed the Munchkins, 1939.) He was a kid before airplanes. Now he traveled around in one. I use words, probably, from Kankakee, Ill., turn of the last century. My mom was in Southampton, England, and could remember the sadness at dockside about the Lusitania's sinking - in 1915. That's what I mean about having seen a lot of bad stuff. B.T.
11/22/2016 12:36:23 pm
11/23/2016 07:27:19 am
George, a very nice, if tough, reflection. A perfect segue to the holiday that's just about here. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, and to all the fine people who contribute to your blog. Cheers.
11/23/2016 09:49:51 am
Peter, thanks, and the same to you. I was already thinking about a Thanksgiving thought, but your comment here activated me to get it done right away. Enjoy the day GV
12/1/2016 10:51:40 pm
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.