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Never Met a Stranger: Thoughts on a birthday



By T.W. Burger

74, for God’s sake. I often facetiously add “how the hell did THAT happen?” as if I didn’t know.

It’s amazing how fast the days add up and then just as rapidly subtract.

Some things take forever to get here and then become things that took place in the distant past, yet seem like they happened yesterday.

People my age and older might as well be aliens. The world we grew up in was very different from this one, no matter how well we adapted to it.

Harry S (No period: It wasn’t an initial, it was his actual name) Truman sat in the White House. The U.S was about a year from getting itself mired in the Korean War. It’s not well-remembered because we didn’t win. We’re still making movies about World War II, because we were on the winning side. Most American history books scarcely mention the “conflict” in Vietnam. There will be short shrift given to the war in Afghanistan as well, and for the same reason. I have been told by any number of angry “patriots” that “We” failed in those wars because of journalists. If there was ever a case of shooting the messenger, that is it.

I do not have the numbers, but many of the people in my cohort would be long dead if not for modern science. Science, that thing a big slug of You The People disdain because you think not knowing beans about science is just as good or better than spending a lifetime and a small fortune studying it.

I had cataracts. Until the mid-1970s, I would have simply gone blind. Instead, I got the surgery that replaced the lenses and, in the process, gave me almost perfect vision.

I had a heart attack…two, in fact. The first one is of a type nicknamed “The Widow maker.” Now I have two dinky little steel springs in a cardiac artery, keeping it open and me running pretty well, thank you.

I am a diabetic. Before the invention of artificial insulin, my life expectancy would have been three years or less. It’s still a roll of the dice, but I have been dealing with it for 25 years. More science.

We have been to the moon a number of times, despite the squirrelly folk who insist all those photos and videos were taken in the Mojave Desert.

Since 1997, we have had six – seven, if you include the one from China - dune-buggy-sized robot cars and now a miniature helicopter cruising around on the surface of mars. There are those that doubt all that, too, but they can be ignored. Again, science.

The arguments against the existence of the space program can be brushed aside by the example of the computer.

When I was a boy, my dad worked for Westinghouse. That company built one of the first computers. It was the size of a house and used enough electricity to run a small town. Then came the space program, and computers, at the hands of armies of people good and science and its partner, math, created ever-smaller computers.

That cellphone in your pocket has more computing power than the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Science.

People my age still wingeing about “them damned computers” have forgotten having to solve complicated math problems with a slide rule. Or an abacus. (Google them.)

But I digress, though on purpose. The way I got where and when I am is the same way you got when and where you are: A day at a time.

I miss things, but I don’t miss black and white television. I miss manual transmissions. I miss wing-vent windows in my cars and trucks, but I love air-conditioning. I am disappointed that we never got flying cars. I sometimes think that was because science did not keep up, but maybe science looked at how poorly we drive on the ground and decided it was a bad idea.

I am jealous of young people because they are going to see how the next three-quarters of a century goes, and I’m going to miss most of it. Dammit.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

Semi-retired, Burger is still working as a contributing writer for Classic City News and various other publications, and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

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