You think we have it bad now with COVID-19 and violence in the streets across much of America?
Try being born in 1900. Obviously those folks are dead, but talk about a depressing life. If you were born in 1900, you were born the year a hurricane in Galveston killed from 6,000 to 8,000 people. Your disastrous life was just getting started.
The next year your president, William McKinley, was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz (yes, they had anarchists then, too.). When you were six, the San Francisco earthquake killed 500 people, and on your 16th birthday a large outbreak of polio hit New York City where there were 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. Polio was not eliminated until you were 79. Near your 18th birthday the U.S. entered World War I. Also, on your 18th birthday, the world was in the midst of the Spanish Flu, which by the time you turned 20, killed 20 million people worldwide, 500,000 in the U.S.
Today's column appears in the annual football preview section, available in the Aug. 25 print edition of The Salem News
Support local journalism and never miss a story in The Salem News. Sign up here.
When you turned 20, liquor prohibition hit, which was a very good thing or a very bad thing, depending on your point of view. Another president, Warren G. Harding, died in office of natural causes. About the time you were in college – if you were lucky enough to go to college – the Scopes Monkey Trial was underway, an argument over evolution that still rages today.
When you finished college and were ready to take on the world, the stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression hit, and people were leaping off buildings in New York City. It lasted for years and brought about widespread unemployment and food rationing. You were just turning 29.
When you were 33, prohibition was repealed, again, leaving some happy and some sad.
After you overcame the hurricane, the flu, the earthquake, the Great War, prohibition and the deaths of a couple presidents while in office, you were ready to put those three decades behind you. For sure.
Of course, you just knew you were cursed when, after getting over all that and the Great Depression was in the rearview mirror, World War II started, and as you remember from the history books, we got in it. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and your life, at age 45, was crap again.
Once we dropped the bomb and the war-to-end-all-wars soon ended, the rest of your life wouldn’t be so bad. Unless you count the Cold War, where students got under their desks during nuclear bomb drills and the Russians promised, “We will bury you.”
Or the Korean War around your 50th birthday.
Or the Vietnam War that drug on from your 55th birthday until you were 75.
Or, when you turned 54, the McCarthy senate hearings that accused movie stars and government officials of being communists.
Or the birth of the drug culture.
Or riots following forced integration of public schools and the civil rights movement through most of your adult life.
Or worry about Soviet missiles placed in Cuba when you were 62.
Or the fact that the second president in your lifetime was assassinated, president John. F. Kennedy when you turned 63.
Or that five years later, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
On your 70th birthday – as if you hadn’t been through enough heartbreak and bad news – four students are shot to death by National Guardsmen at Kent State University.
The average life expectancy in 1970 was about 71 years, so for many of the folks born in 1900, their stressful life was about to end. I would guess believers were more than ready to leave this world and head to paradise.
So, what does this have to do with football?
We are facing some stress of our own these days with COVID-19 hanging over our football programs. It’s just awful that these young men – and young men and women in other sports and activities – have the cloud of COVID-19 hanging over them. Will we play Friday night? Will we play the next Friday? Will mom and dad be able to go? Should I wear a mask? Should I play at all?
If there is a lesson to be learned from the senior class of 1918, it is that life can be really, really awful. Imagine going through those 70 years. Imagine the frustration, the panic, the fear that kept hitting them square in the face on every birthday. And yet look at America in 1900 and again in 1970. Look at how much our country grew and prospered, as Americans – known as The Greatest Generation and for good reason – overcame all those obstacles.
Yea, we have COVID-19, some unrest in the streets and great angst over who the next president might be. But it can be a lot worse. If you can find a 120-year-old person around anywhere, just ask them.