A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Looking Backward

(Above: Mrs. Lacey's first grade class, El Rodeo School, 1951. I'm in the back row, second kid from the left. Standing between me and Mrs. Lacey is David Ansen, who grew up to become Newsweek's movie critic. Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Since Donald Trump is demanding to see President Obama's birth certificate, I decided to dig up mine to see if it proves that I was born in this country, too.
Alas, it doesn't reveal much more than Obama's. All it says is that I was born on April 5, 1945 - shortly before the end of World War II - at Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. Make of that what you will, Donald.
My arrival was a blessed event for my family in more ways than one, since it meant they were entitled to another precious book of ration coupons. Four days after I was born, the Office of Price Administration duly issued me War Ration Book No. 356021, which I still have.
Since I was too young to fill in the blanks, my father did it for me. In the box marked "Occupation" he wrote, "Baby."
A lot has changed since I was a kid - some for better, some for worse.
Back then, labor unions had real clout, taxes on the rich were high, and the economy was booming. People were so used to prosperity, any unemployment rate higher than four percent was considered the kiss of death for an incumbent politician.
California had the best public schools in the country, and every high school grad was guaranteed a free education at either one of the UC campuses, the state colleges or the junior colleges, depending on your grades. After college, you could count on a job with the same company for your whole life.
The most popular spectator sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing. The NFL lagged far behind, and its best teams were the Lions and Browns. The worst were the Packers and Steelers.
The Giants were still in New York, and the A's and Warriors were still in Philadelphia. In college football, Miami of Ohio, not Florida, was the big powerhouse.
Though a few African Americans had been playing in the NBA since 1951, most coaches and sportswriters were sure they couldn't play basketball as well as whites. There were no black pitchers, no black quarterbacks, and no black coaches or managers.
And we had some pretty weird ideas about what the future would be like. For instance, we all believed that the Cold War would either drag on forever or end in a nuclear holocaust. Similarly, apartheid in South Africa would either never end or would end in a bloodbath.
We were taught that we would never find out what killed the dinosaurs, or whether the universe started with a Big Bang or has been the same forever.
And, of course, a Catholic would never be elected President, much less an African American.
And something I was sure would be imprinted on people's memories forever is already being forgotten. Last week I was talking with a friend in her late thirties, and I mentioned a date that I was sure anyone would recognize: Nov. 22, 1963.
But all I saw was a blank stare. Sure, she had heard of JFK's assassination, but the date didn't ring a bell.
I was taken aback, but I console myself with the thought that 30 years from now, some young person is going to ask her what Sept. 11, 2001 means.

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