A few days ago I saw a TV promotion about commemorating the 100th birthday of Charles Schulz. Had the cartoonist not passed in 2000, he would have celebrated this very round milestone last Saturday. I was 10 when the Peanuts gang replaced Blondie and Dagwood on the UDC comics page. I sort of grew up with unsuccessful football kicking, five-cent therapy sessions, doghouse monologues, Beethoven and blankets, unrequited love. In adulthood, friends took pride in their Charlie Brown Christmas trees, GHS thespians performed the book report scene from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and I found sweet comfort in the sentiment: Happiness is a warm puppy. These days we sure could use a good dose of Schulz’s endearing wit and wisdom.
Inspired by this 100th birthday, I searched unsuccessfully for others in the category – not for a lack of famous folks born in 1922. Since the UDC already lists them in its daily TODAY IN HISTORY feature, I set a new goal for myself and my article: to highlight fascinating but obscure occurrences “celebrating” any round milestone in the past 100 years.
For example, 80 years ago Anne Frank received an autograph book for her 13th birthday, a slim volume she would press into service as a diary. Sadly, just a month later the Frank family began their two years hidden from the Nazis. Anne did not survive her eventual concentration camp experience – but today we admire her indomitable spirit and old-soul wisdom as recorded in a seemingly-simple teenager’s daily journal.
Contemplating the significance of The Diary of a Young Girl, I discovered that another book, enjoyed during and important to many childhoods, made its appearance seven decades back. In 1952 E.B. White portrayed the friendships children instinctively understand – as could adults, if they choose to listen.
Charlotte made great physical and emotional sacrifices to save Wilbur’s life: never mind they were spider and pig. In the pages of Charlotte’s Web, White epitomized the nature of the bond between friends: You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.
A current comment: this week I have been reading R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder, published ten years ago. The New York Times bestseller in 2012 follows Auggie, navigating the trials and tribulations of adolescence/high school/family/friendships with the added aspect of an extraordinarily-different face. Categorized as a young adult book, it is speaking quite poignantly to this old adult’s heart.
I am always curious about when and why new products become old favorites – particularly ones with versatile applications. For example, duct tape was invented in 1942 by factory worker Vesta Stoudt to meet the wartime need for a strong, watertight, cloth-based tape. Eighty years later, we often call it by the brand name of Duck Tape, referring to the Army green cotton duck fabric from which the original tape was made, in addition to its water-resistant properties similar to the back of a duck. These days the sticky stuff, available in an array of colors and surfaces, seems to be holding much of the world together!
Dawn dish soap, from Procter and Gamble, was invented in 1972 by 26-year-old Paul Andrecola, who in the fifty years since also came up with Febreze. From a very crowded field of dish-washing liquids, my mother chose Dawn because of her sensitive hands. This liquid has numerous other uses including hard water stains and scum, stainless steel and windows, bubbles for kids. Most notably, however, Dawn cuts through grease in the kitchen – and on animals unfortunately immersed in oil spills.
Ever fascinated by language development, I spied the word gunk on a 1932 list. Defined as “a sticky, greasy residue” – although we all recognize gunk when we encounter it, the word seems somehow more contemporary. Ninety years ago, however, gunk was the trademark for a thick liquid soap. Imagine washing our hands with Gunk!
Much more modern and fer shur way more useless, our ears were assaulted in 1982 by Valley Speak. Thankfully, we lived too far from the San Fernando Valley to be substantially impacted, but incomprehensible terms such as grody and gnarly did occasionally creep into casual conversation forty years ago. Until the Valley Girl fad finally faded, I bided my time with this mantra: Gag me with a spoon!
With visions of Ohio blizzards still drifting in my head, I was drawn to the report of an event occurring ninety years ago. Measurable snow uncharacteristically blanketed the Hollywood section of Los Angeles early in 1932. Five hundred Pasadena Junior College students stormed into the storm for an epic snowball fight that swelled into a riot quelled by police!
And a personal recollection from seventy years ago: I visited the Gloria – with my family – to see the first motion picture of my life. In September of 1952 The Greatest Show on Earth lit up the screen in Technicolor: my ticket price of 35 cents allowed me to experience the larger-than-life sights and sounds of wild animals, clowns, trapeze artists, and a ringmaster. I am not sure we had a television set at home then, which most likely added to the amazing performances I witnessed wide-eyed from a velvet chair with its flip-up seat. Absolutely unforgettable!
With the clear exception of my advancing age, round birthdays are great fun – especially when we can celebrate by learning something new as we peek into the dusty corners of past eras!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.