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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

I had a birthday recently. Some might call it a high-number birthday; let's just say I had no birthday cake because the candles would have set off the smoke alarm.

No, I'm not old enough to have served as Noah's first mate on the ark. I wasn't with Gen. Grant at Richmond. I didn't even charge up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt. I'm what might be called "seasoned."

As the 20th century comes to an end, there are advantages to being an old geezer. I've been a witness to most of the events that have defined the century and made America what it has become.

You young whippersnappers should know that America hasn't always been the way it is today. I think it's fair to say, World War I notwithstanding, that most of the defining events of the century occurred from the Great American Depression and beyond.

I remember the Depression. Granted it was through the eyes of a young child, but I remember enough to know it was a bad time.

I know that the generation ahead of me grew up under hard times, only to be called on to fight World War II, the last time Americans came together as one in a concerted effort to achieve a grand goal.

I remember when it was cool to be a patriotic, flag-waving American. It takes someone who remembers World War II to appreciate the debt America owes to the men and women who fought it.

I understand that when this generation returned from the war, they wanted a better life for their children than they had as "Depression kids" and global warriors. This desire changed America more than most of their children and grandchildren realize.

The pent-up demand fueled a frenzied economy. Convenience goods and services were demanded, creating a middle-class standard of living previously unheard of. If it improved the quality of life, Americans demanded it and got it.

Because people my age remember the beginning of the Cold War, we had a unique perspective when the Soviet Union imploded. Since I remember when the Berlin Wall went up, I had a special understanding of the meaning of its destruction. It wasn't just another media event. To fully comprehend the significance of the end of the Cold War, you need to have watched the entire struggle that led to it.

I remember when there was no television. I know it's difficult for some to imagine a televisionless world, but life actually went on without it. I remember radio when it was the "Theater of the Mind." The perimeters of radio were constrained only by the limits of one's imagination.

Those who only know radio as a juke box may find it hard to fathom the power of the spoken word. If the blockbuster movie "Godzilla" were to be aired on old time radio, a gazillion-dollar special-effects lizard wouldn't be necessary. The script would describe the creature, and the sound effects would do the rest. It would look like whatever existed in listeners' minds.

I remember when the initials PC didn't mean anything; now they have two meanings. One is personal computer. Yes, I remember life without the PC, or any other computer. The early primitive computer filled an entire room, and it didn't have an iota of the power of today's tiny PC.

Gosh, I even remember life before hand calculators. Students had to use their brains to work math problems. Sure, there were a few guys with a bunch of ballpoint pens in their shirt pockets who used things called slide rules to calculate stuff the rest of us couldn't even spell, let alone understand. You'd probably have to go to a museum to see a slide rule today.

Oh, yes. The other PC: political correctness, which has made about the same contribution to the quality of the century as athlete's foot.

I remember when McDonald's Golden Arches sign said "A Whole Bunch Sold." I made that up, but I can remember when none had been sold. Yes, I remember America with no McDonald's or any other fast-food chains.

I remember America before it moved to the suburbs, a movement which begat more cars, which begat superhighways, which begat mass cross-country travel, which begat more and more fast food and motel chains, which begat other chains that sold anything that could be sold.

Yes, I remember a slower paced America, one without hectic wall-to-wall traffic, road rage and urban sprawl.

I've lived through the significant changes of the century. I'm glad I'm still around to talk about them.

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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