How has the country changed in my lifetime?

Jeezum Storyworth autobiography content coordinators! Way to jump off the focused single-track into an infinite, multiple choice grey area with a single question!

When I initially pondered how to answer, a reel of then-versus-now images rolled through my mind. It was black and white turning to color like when Dorothy whirls out of Kansas and opens the door to a kaleidoscope of things she never before imagined. I saw how there was no place like my childhood home in the Sixties, no better feeling at the time then having the world revolve around finishing my homework and piano lessons before Lost in Space, and getting my training wheels off so I could ride, all by myself, up to Rand’s Store for penny candy. Fast forward sixty some years and here I am, writing into space at the speed of light without my Museum of Science pen or my trusty typewriter, ordering whatever I need and don’t really need the day after tomorrow with a couple clicks, looking forward to riding my solar-powered e-bike soon and catching up on a winter’s worth of DVR’d shows anytime I want!

Then I reread the question and realized it was about the the country changing, not about things in my microcosmic world going all bright and shiny seemingly overnight. I’d come to the turning point in my autobiographical journey where I was supposed to talk about patriotism and, awwww boy, politics. Could I answer in my typical rooted in the pucker in Rangeley style and still say something sharp and sage? Or would I be an old fuddy-dud, not offering any new spin on how things are different in the good ol’ US of A since back when a dollar was worth something, deals were made on a handshake, kids walked miles and miles, music was music, and a vote was a real vote? Hmmmm….

I was born three years before Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states in the Union, in the year Congress approved building the U.S. interstate highway system, Castro began the Cuban revolution, the first transatlantic telephone cable went into operation, Elvis gyrated around in his blue suede shoes, and a Hollywood film crew turned Camden, Maine, into Peyton Place.

So far, I’ve lived through fourteen presidents, one assassination, one attempted assassination, four presidential impeachments and a resignation. I cast my first vote for Jimmy Carter who, at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate as more than just the best candidate. Now I regard him as one of America’s finest human beings to also be president, and sure wish he could pass some of that down before it’s too late. Since then, I’ve voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. I still believe that “Yes, we can”…if we’re willing to do the necessary campaign reform and bureaucratic overhaul. And, when pressed about my political affiliation, I say I’m “intentionally naïve and leaning left.” I was equally jazzed about Obama’s election as I was about my dad, a staunch Republican, managing our friend’s Democratic campaign for state senate because our friend was “the best guy for the job.” I remember putting a Nixon ’72 sticker on my school notebook while being quietly impressed when my older sister broke rank and voted for George McGovern, even after my mild-mannered grandpa called her a Communist hippie.

I learned the word “president” when my mother pointed to Dwight D. Eisenhower on TV, and the word “casket” when JFK’s funeral procession marched ever so slowly across our grainy, black and white screen. I can still remember the contrast between little John and Caroline’s light-colored “dress-up” coats—and the stars and stripes on the flag draped over the box with President Kennedy, their daddy, in it—and how that stood out in the somber, stiff throngs of black-dressed grownups waiting to say goodbye. And how hard I wished that my next day off from school would be for something nice, like snow, or a happy parade.

My grandparents and, for much of their lives my parents, could not have imagined watching history unfold right in their living rooms. But I came of age with Walter Cronkite’s nightly reports on the Vietnam War (AKA “The First Television War”) and, multiple wars and conflicts later, am now watching blow-by-blow live coverage as Russia attacks Ukraine. I was a gawky adolescent when I witnessed Neil Armstrong take “one giant leap” on the moon, and a first-time new mother when I saw the Challenger explosion take the life of the first civilian in space. As one of the first to receive a polio vaccine at age six, and one of the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for my at-risk age group at age 64, I can tell you within a low margin of error how many state and county residents are currently hospitalized with the virus and boosted against it. I’ve lost count of the mass shootings that keep overshadowing the news since Sandy Hook shocked the country ten years ago. But I do know it’s way, way too many. Fortunately, as of this writing, I have not lost a loved one to a pandemic, to war, or to the killers among us at war with themselves. And that is a source of ceaseless gratitude.

So, it seems the more things have been a-changin’ in my six and a half centuries of living in this country, the more they’ve stayed pretty much the same. With some exceptions. I never imagined having a computer, never mind holding one in my hand or having a long, successful career helping companies like HP, Cisco and Fidelity tell their customers how to work “in the cloud.” I’m a true child of the Information Age, a retired Information Technology writer, growing old wondering why we’re turning so little of all this info into knowledge and wisdom. Because, as I see it now, it’s not about how many screens I can check to keep up with what’s going on, it’s what I chose to do and not do with the bombardment—what I decide to pay mind to in a way that genuinely helps me and my extended circle versus what I want to mine for in support of my own biases. I can look up, look away, stop scrolling and go for a walk in the woods. I can track gas prices rising over $4 a gallon along with record inflation and remind myself I’ve handled it before…more than once. I can never forget what happened on Jan. 6 and do my daily best to be on the side of history that never lets it happen again.

“Wow, I just never thought I’d see anything like this in my lifetime,” I said as I came inside on a sunny January day to breaking news of the Capitol invasion in vivid, wide screen color. No matter how many times I’ve seen the images since, I still can’t believe I’m looking at the same flag I first pledged allegiance to in Mrs. Ashley’s first grade class. How could that be the same flag laid to rest over JFK, the one erected at Ground Zero on 9/11 as George W. Bush led us in coming together as a country in crisis, the one on the side of Marine One when Nixon maintained his dignity, gave his infamous farewell salute, and left Washington? How could it be the same flag flying ceremoniously all those times we never had to stress the word peaceful during transitions of power because presidents were presidential?

I’m still walking that one off. I can’t totally look away from Jan. 6 and its aftermath. I know I’ve got to keep informed and sane, to be smart without self-righteousness, mindful of my single contributions to progress and, as Nana would say, to any “lack thereof.” And I hope when the news reel of my life concludes it’s mostly about shiny new stuff, about shedding some light on this point in my nation’s history and how never before became never again.

For more autobiographical Q&As than you’ll have time to read, see
Building my life story one question at a time