Friday, December 26, 2008

Gary is 60

As I've gotten older, I've become more interested in other people's perspectives, particularly when they're from another generation. I've started grilling my parents and anybody who wants to share stories from their past. A couple of weeks ago, one of the gentlemen I work with celebrated his 60th birthday. Gary is actually retired. But the man is stuffed full of energy and, honestly, I can't see him slowing down any time soon. He worked for 30 years at UW-Stout in their Publications Department and upon retiring, started with us a year or two ago.

I'm constantly grilling him about what hobbies he enjoys (locomotives, old cars, particularly Oldsmobiles and I think he has a Studebaker), what his family is like (his mom is in her 90s, but you'd never guess as active as she is), has he ever smoked pot, what it was like for him growing up. He's a soft-spoken man with a positive outlook and, while I have the mouth of a sailor, he never utters so much as a "gosh," has no vices, or even shows any emotion other than a smile and a sincere laugh. He's probably the most even keel I've ever met. We talked about this and I remarked that he's a kind of laid-back stoic. On his birthday, I asked him, "What's the biggest change in society you've seen over the years?"

His response was how things that were once considered taboo are now a common part of society. Which, if you look to 60 years ago, wow.

Sure...from my own point of view (and I'm just guessing here), women almost always wore dresses, were homemakers, made up their hair and wore makeup every day. Piercings were only on ears and only on females. Tattoos were almost exclusively on sailors. Nobody swore in the movies, no butt cheeks were bared on TV. Blood spray from gunshots and charred corpses were never seen. Cops and their trailer park targets were behind-the-scenes. Paparazzi was non-existent, nobody videotaped you cheating on your wife. Female presidential candidates? Ridiculous. A black president? Not likely. Definitely a different time.

Aside from all the usual bits of trivia you see in those "In the year you were born..." articles, give this a mental chewing...

Gary was:
  • 5 years old when the Korean War ended
  • 9 years old when the Soviets launched Sputnik
  • 11 years old when Hawaii became the 50th state
  • 15 years old when Kennedy was assassinated
  • 21 years old when the first man landed on the moon
So much of human history can be revealed just by talking to the person next to you.

While I was looking for events over the last 60 years, I found this article from 1958 where Popular Mechanics made predictions for what life would be like in 2000. Amusing and a little unsettling at the same time.

Gary's answer to "have you ever smoked pot?"? "I'm saving up all my vices for when I'm 80." "So," I asked, "It'll be all, 'Help me to the can [urp]! And don't spill my bong water! And for *$&%'s sake! This time try not to catch your finger on my piercing!'?" At 80. hee hee.

It is with some degree of regret that I didn't think to get all the juicy stories out of my grandparents while they were still alive. Thankfully, my parents and their siblings offer glimpses of times past, and it's inspired me to work on a project. So if you're a part of my life? Don't be surprised to see an email from me soon grilling you on your past.

Some individuals can make big impressions on society in general, but, in my opinion, the collective stories of humans growing up have a bigger impact. Those stories are the ones that make you feel not so alone.

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