My generation is slipping away like mad lemmings carried off by various bugs, buggers, buggerers. Things I once did and people I had once known of are slipping off the landscape. It’s a (newish) century and I’ve been foundering in it for the past 20 years.
Things I remember that probably will not be recognizable to younger people: Collecting for the March of Dimes; Trick-or-Treat for Unicef; memorizing all state and international capitals. Pearl Bailey. Tony Dow. Anthony Hecht. The Duchess of Windsor. Duke Ellington. Sacco and Vanzetti. Lou Hoover. Samuel Gompers. Harry Hopkins. Aimee Semple McPherson. Harold Ickes. Father Coughlin. W.C. Fields. Paul Robeson. When I was young, I could count on people knowing these names. The New Deal. Daily train trips to NYC for psychoanalysis. The CCC. Dodger Stadium. Eleanor Roosevelt standing back and insisting that JFK walk before her. The crazy love for Grandma Moses and Swedish trolls. Steiff animals.
My frame of reference is all covfefe when I watch Jeopardy! (College Edition). Do I really know nothing of popular music? Yes, I do. Do I still think of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower as youngsters? Yes, I do. I remember Luci Baines Johnson (or was it Lynda Bird Johnson) dating George Hamilton.
When we are young, we can sop up information and we don’t have the skills (or not yet) to evaluate the relative importance of Princess Margaret and Bess Truman. “The Kid” is Jackie Coogan. There’s Billy Bitzer, Busby Berkeley, and Benjamin Britten. Our shared cultural knowledge streams off into different tributaries.
Also, of course, I stopped learning new things when I had a sharp focus on my career. Some things I stopped learning: I don’t know about any “boy bands” after 1970 or so. I don’t know the television landscape very well. I don’t know who’s who in _Gray’s Anatomy_ although I think everyone else might. The youngest member of the cast on “The Today Show” will remain Barbara Walters in my head. For me, Jacques Brel is alive and well. For me, there’s no Harry Potter and no concept of a “YA” book. I used to know the name of every cabinet member but refused to drag interest into the 21st century. For me it remains recent news that Al Gore’s campaign was sabotaged. Hans Blix still looms large in my imagination. Things that were impressed there once, remain and new things get impressed only very faintly or not at all.
It’s no wonder at all that the world of the elderly seems so archaic to younger people. While WWII was still throbbing on my pulse, I lived to hear students complain that teachers ruin potentially superior learning opportunities by “not getting over” the War. It seems as alive to them as the Punic Wars did to me when I was young. I’m not particularly patriotic, but I remember going to a couple of parades a year when I was young. The soldiers were the best part and they did not complete with frothy floats. First, there were a couple limping who had served in the Civil War. Then there were precisely nobody who had been in the white power grabs of the Native Americans. After the Civil War veterans, were quite a few veterans of the Spanish American War. Then there were masses and masses of WWI vets, along with nurses and other women who served. WWII boasted hundreds and hundreds of marchers. Many fewer had been to Korea.
And now the people–almost all of them younger than I am—are in a baffling and deadly war where the enemy knows no boundaries or borders. It’s the war of the medical workers, the cashiers, the food delivery people, the post office, the “essential workers” who are putting their lives on the line for a stipend that the Walton, Bezos, and Gates family cannot comprehend.