from my aging eyes,
the boy I once was looks out—
hardly changed at all
I was born before D-Day, before V-E Day, before V-J Day. If you don’t recognize those occasions, you’re most likely younger than I. World War II was the single biggest event in the lives of the generation before mine, and the year I entered the world, it was still raging on.
When I was born, I joined almost 2.5 billion other souls on the planet. In North America, the average cost of a house like the one we eventually lived in was $3600, and the average annual wage was only $2000. My future father-in-law, then a callow twenty-one-year-old, earned $800 that year, the first time he filed an income tax return. A new car, for those who could afford one, cost about $900, and the gasoline to fuel it cost fifteen cents per gallon. A bottle of Coca-Cola cost five cents.
Among the people born in the same year as I (and you’ll recognize their names more readily than mine) were Arthur Ashe, Robert de Niro, John Denver, Bobby Fischer, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, John Kerry, Billie Jean King, Peter Marsh, Jim Morrison, and Lech Walesa. Seven of them are no longer with us.
Major world leaders included William Lyon Mackenzie King here in Canada, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and Joseph Stalin—many of whom didn’t like each other at all.
Among the popular films my parents went to see in the year I was born were For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, Lassie Come Home, The Titanic, and the winner of the Academy Award, Mrs. Miniver. Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller were music icons of the day, and Oklahoma opened on Broadway.
Some of the most popular books published that year included A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Ted. A. Lawson. My favourite (which, of course, I was not able to read until six or seven years later) was Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara.
The New York Yankees won the World Series that year, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, and Count Fleet won the Kentucky Derby, but both the U.S. Open in golf and Wimbledon in tennis were cancelled because of the war.
Invention, spurred on by the wartime effort, saw the development of the aqualung, the Colossus computer used to decode the German Enigma encryption, the ever-popular Slinky toy, and silly putty. The Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, which cost almost two billion dollars, was well underway.
Nachos were invented the year I was born, and remain popular to this day. The ABC radio network began broadcasting that year, launched by the founder of the Life-Savers candy company. The Philip Morris tobacco company unveiled an ad that, for the first time, acknowledged smokers’ cough, although they blamed it on other cigarette brands. The chairman of IBM conceded that “…there is a world market for maybe five computers.” And a Swiss chemist discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD—presumably on a trip.
I was born well before the following technological marvels we take for granted today became commonplace: duct tape, television, Tupperware, credit cards, waterproof diapers, transistors, defibrillators, supersonic aircraft, cat litter, the Zamboni, crash-test dummies, aerosol paint, teleprompters, airbags, barcodes, heart-lung machines, WD-40, zipper storage bags, automatic sliding doors, radar guns, computers, hard disk drives, silicon chips, videotape, lasers, spandex, artificial turf, the Pill, LED’s, Buffalo wings, 8-track tapes, CD’s, space travel, personal computers, the internet, and smartphones.
I was not, however, born before the Wright brothers first took flight (as my sons-in-law are wont to claim).
But hey, lest this looking-back convey the impression that I long for the good old days, whatever they were, let me assure you that such is far from the truth. In fact, as I approach my seventy-fifth birthday, I look forward to the changes yet to come—just as I marvelled at those occurring during my life so far—and with the same boyish enthusiasm as ever.
As Dylan so memorably wrote and sang, the times they are a-changin’. But somewhere inside this gnarly old man, there still resides the precocious boy who spawned him, surprised he has not changed.
closing in on my
diamond jubilee, the
man is still the boy
Have a happy birthday, old man!