It was May 23, 1946, when Sylvia Livingston Bernstein gave birth to her second child, a boy, about 2½ years younger than his older sister Judith.
Then the family lived in NY City, but within a few years bought a house in Larchmont NY where both children grew up and which was the family residence until after Sylvia died in 1963, less then a week after her son had graduated from Mamaroneck High School. Then her hysband Louis remarried for the first time to a Brazilian diplomat, and the son for the first of two times served as his father’s Best Man.
How many others can say that, having served twice as one’s father’s best man.
I can, because I am that son.
And this is a reflection on the more than three quarters of a century of a life that I know is now moving quickly on its downslope.
I am finishing my 4th and final year of teaching at a school founded the September after I was born.
My lifespan has gone from when many families either had no phone or shared a party line with other families to a time where the vast majority of individuals have cell phones on at all times.
I remember 3 cent postage (with 6 cents for airmail) and when we got mail delivery in both the morning and the afternoon. For much of my childhood candy bars were a nickel (and substantially larger than they are now). I can remember gasoline at a quarter a gallon and cigarettes similarly priced per pack and almost all adults smoked. Through my adolescence and well into my 20s the legal drinking age in New York State was 18.
When I first worked on computers while in the Marines in the mid 1960s most computers still used punch cards and one with 64K of memory was considered incredible (the ones on which I work had only 4k).
When I was young there were no LP records and recording on tape was on reel to reel tape machines which were rarely in homes. No one had stereo recording, and even by the time I graduated from high school in 1963 most home TV sets were still black and white. My first TV memories were of the Army McCarthy hearings.
My parents had met at Cornell, my father class of 1932 my mother class of 1934, when they were in dramatics together. They re-connected in Washington DC when both worked at the Office of Price Administration, getting married in 1941, shortly before my father went into the Navy at the outbreak of WWII. They were loving parents, albeit both with difficulties. I was not accelerated in school until skipping 6th grade because my mother had graduated from Huntr College HS at 14, spending a year at Hunter before Cornell waived its minimum age of 16 and admitted her a sophomore at 15, th academic year where she met my father. She was 18 when she graduated from Cornell, 21, when she graduated (2nd in her class) from Columbia Law, and really never fully grew up. She recognized that I might mature late and resisted accelerating me until I skipped 6th. She was right — I was slow to mature, and did not finally graduate from College until my 4th attempt shortly before my 27th birthday.
But my sister and I enjoyed rich childhoods. W had art lessons, somewhat wasted on me (I cannot draw). Our house was full of music and we both became involved — her on violin and viola, me on piano and cello. We went to many concerts in NYC, only a short train or car ride away. And we went to Broadway, where as a child I can remember seeing the original shows of West Side Story and The Music Man,among others. Our house was full of books — as is that of Leaves and myself today — and we received multiple newspapers. We were encouraged to read, and to be involved in civic life, as both parents were involved in politics (albeit as liberal Northeast Republicans, my mother being one of the first NY State femal Assistant Attorneys General appointed by Nelson Rockefeller). I have in many ways, both positive and negative, been shaped by being the child of my parent.s
My childhood saw 8 years of a Republican President who supported unions and Social Security and actually believed in federal infrastructure — Ike was responsible for the Interstate Highway System, which I remember being built and I can remember as a child riding my bike on a portion of what would become Interstate 95. Oh, and in the 50s and even into the 70s (and in the case of David Souter the 80s) we had Supreme Court Justices appointed by Republican Presidents who supported Civil Rights, protected and expanded voting rights, restricted gerrymandering (think of one man, one vote). It was a conservative Republican President Richard Nixon under whom sweeping environmental regulation came into being.
There has been much change in my lifetime, certainly in the US, but also around the world. When I was born the sun never set on the British Empire. Now countries choose to no longer remain in the Commonwealth. There was a Soviet Union which dominated Eastern Europe. Now parts of what were the Soviet Union or were satellite states under Soviet domination and control are now part of NATO. There are countries that are new in Eastern Europe — Yugoslavia is no more and Germany is united again into one nation. Africa is no longer largely colonies of European nations, primarily France and the UK but also Portugal and Belgium. And even some nations in Africa have split apart.
Britain is not the only empire that fell. Just in Asia, think of the Dutch losing Indonesia and the French losing Indochina (which is now 3 separate nations).
We have seen around the world recognition and acceptance of those whose orientation is same sex or bisexual, even in some countries nominally Catholic. The death penalty no longer exists in the European Union, the UK, or Canada, and has been eliminated in many US state, even as the crimes for which the a federal death penalty can be applied have been expanded.
During my almost 8 decades of life there has rarely been even a 6 month period without a war somewhere.
And as my life has gone it, I have seen some of the progress that had been made — both here and abroad — has been rolled back. We have seen the rise of strongman leaders in a number of countries, some of which have seemed to slip back from the levels of democracy they previously displayed. The US is not alone in having one strand of religion seeking to dominate the politics and government. Russia continues a long pattern and has now been joined among others by India and Modi’s Hindu nationalism, despite the fact that India has more Muslims than any other country except Indonesia.
For almost 3 decades I have been a school teacher. I have taught a variety of courses, but I have taught Government & Politics far more than all the other courses put together. I have been through periods where it could be difficult because what was happening, especially in our own government, seemed in many ways aberrant. Yes, I am well aware of the history of problems in our government at all levels from local to national. But consider that my teaching career goes back to Bill Clinton — that includes when I first taught Government in 1998-99. Thus I have been through the 2nd Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden. I have seen dysfunction and distortion.
I have also been active in various political ways from local government through national pollitics and government. I did not become seriously politically active until my late 20s living in Media PA, the county seat of Delaware County, which in one 4 year period we turned from all Republican to almost all Democratic. Since moving to Arlington VA in 1982 I became increasingly involved — a college classmate was on the County Board, I became good friends with a man who ran for and got elected Treasurer (and reelected multiple times), I was involved in the presidential campaigns of Fritz Hollings in 1983-84, Michael Dukakis in 1998. Howard Dean in 2003-2004. I got to know candidates for House and Senate from around the country, as well as those who were already in office or succeeded in getting elected. I wrote, especially here, particularly on matters of education, but on other topics as well.
I do not know if I will teach again after this year. There have been some changes in our plans, and there are things up in the air.
I have survived having a stent to control an aortic aneurysm and I have survived a stroke (and the surgery to clear a 95% blockage in a carotid artery). With our ups and down, including some more recently, Leaves on the Current and I are still together, as we have been since starting our relationship in September of 1974, getting married in December of 1985. We have hope that our relationship will last. We have been through her health problems as well as my own.
I do not look my age, I know. In part it is because I have my hair (what is left of it) and my beard colored about once every six weeks. It is also because I have been spending my days working with adolescents.
But I feel my age. I do not have the same level of energy as I did even 5 years ago.
And there are things I still want to do. Much of that is reading. Some are things I want to write. There are places we want to visit, most importantly Italy where neither of us has ever been.
There are things I could regret not having done — I had a chance to do Peace Corps in the Philippines upon which I passed, but had I done that I might never have met Leaves, and that relationship has done more than enriched my life: without her support and encouragement I never would have become a full time teacher in my very late 40s, which has given me a career that even as it fades I know has made a difference in at least some lives.
Yesterday would have been the 99th birthday of the late Charles Aznavour. It was the 82nd birthday of Bob Dylan. Cher, who turned 77 last Saturday, won her best actress Oscar in 1988, 35 years ago. I know I am old. But I do not mind
Tonight my wife is taking me to dinner at the newest restaurant established in DC by Jose Andres, in what is now the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the Trump International name having been removed. It has gotten rave reviews, and we want to honor Jose Andres, going back to when he pulled out of the Trump International because of Trump’s racist comments about immigrants particularly from Mexico. And of course we honor as well his humanitarian work.
I do not know how much more life I have. Despite the previous health issues I am generally in pretty good health. I do pace myself more.
I have had a decent life span, actually far more than I expected.
My mother died before she was 48. Her brother lived into his 90s and her sister into her late 80s. My father was just past his 83rd birthday when he died. Several of his siblings lived into their 90s.
I have no intimations of anything imminent.
I have been far luckier in life than I had any right to expect. The more than 4 decades with Leaves is all the evidence I need to demonstrate that.
I am 77. I am in home with 3 cats who love us, and always want to cuddle.
Not bad, eh?