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Changing the Guard



2016 / 2017

As a boy of ten or twelve, the world looked pretty good. Ours was an aspiring Lower Middle Class family: dad owned a service station (when gas stations still provided actual service); he got custody when my parents divorced; grandmother was a widow, soon to be diagnosed with breast cancer, which she did survive; I was in the fifth or sixth grade. The Korean Conflict had achieved a cease fire; Ike was our President. We read the American newspaper, one of four Chicago dailies and solidly Republican.

A postage stamp was 3¢. A loaf of bread, about 20¢. I shopped for my grandmother and could barely carry a $10 bag of groceries — I was small and the bags were big. I don’t recall who my Fourth Grade teachers were, but I have vivid memories of Fifth Grade math class with Miss Veronica Piper, who much earlier in her career had taught my father, so for an hour each day I answered to the name Roy. I didn’t know it at the time but Miss Piper was to me what Moses Woolson* was to Louis Sullivan.

All of this was sixty years ago when the world — or at least my sheltered portion of it — was a far, far simpler place, when New Year’s Eve didn’t amount to much [remember, I couldn’t drink]. An old guy in a white robe and carrying a scythe passed the hourglass of Time to a kid in a diaper; the imagery of my elders didn’t always make a lot of sense. Oh, and there were fireworks we sometime went to see at a disused drive-in theater.

I liked Ike. He was an elderly man, round-faced and with a soft reassuring voice. His wife Mamie looked like most of the ladies at the Congregational church in Argo, which I attended with our neighbors the Millers — my father being a vehement agnostic. By today’s standards, Ike would have been a Democrat, I suspect. He certainly wouldn’t be his party’s standard-bearer any more than Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan could be. Because the Party Platform in 1956 was downright liberal, supporting stuff like:

1. Provide federal assistance to low-income communities;

2. Protect Social Security;

3. Provide asylum for refugees;

4. Extend minimum wage;

5. Improve unemployment benefit system so it covers more people;

6. Strengthen labor laws so workers can more easily join a union;

7. Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.

Sign me the fuck up!

New Year’s Eve this year will find us comfortably at home, probably sharing some nachos and shrimp cocktail (courtesy of Crazy Richard) and getting to bed early. Hoards of revelers; excessive amounts of booze and noise hold no thrill, and most of the company we might want to keep are either hundreds of miles away or dead. So I’ll simply share a few of my hopes for 2017 with you here and now:

  • That you enjoy good health and a modicum of happiness, especially those with a pre-existing condition. You’re going to need it.
  • That humankind eventually learn to share this fragile ball in space with Peace and Good Will. What’s it going to take to achieve that, I wonder.
  • That we realize “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm,” to borrow from Shakespeare, is the only home we’re likely to have for some time and that we’d better begin caring for it and everything else that’s along for the ride.
  • That whatever Creation Myth you accept — I’m fond of the Iroquois story of a muskrat who brings soil from the bottom of the primordial sea to build an island for humankind — that we find the common thread in those stories and knit the goddam human family back together again in a spirit of mutual coöperation.
  • That my gain cannot be had at your expense and vice versa. Despite all his bad press, Karl Marx was on to something; too bad the Commies got it wrong.
  • That the accomplishments of the last eight years not be thrown away because they happened on the watch of a guy with the wrong skin color. “Race” is a social construct anyway and has very little if anything to do with biology.

If we can address just two or three of these with conviction, I’ll consider 2017 well spent and hope to see you same time next year for a review of our progress.

* Woolson taught at Boston’s English High School while Sullivan was a student there. The architect credits Woolson with teaching to seek rules incapable of exception. I credit Miss Piper, likewise, with teaching me how to think logically.

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