From my desk I can see a favorite – and rare – childhood photograph. I am “standing” between my twenty-something parents: my dress is pink, my arms outstretched, my smile broad, my age counted in months. The rarity of the photo: it shows me on one of the 368 days I spent as an only child. Three days after my first birthday, I entered siblinghood.
My birthday came and went again last week. I tend to mark people’s birthdays with tidbits of information about life during the celebrant’s year of birth. So I perused my own timeline and was struck by how many events foreshadowed later occurrences in my life.
My predicted appearance was Valentine’s Day in 1948, although I arrived several days later. In that interim, Daytona mechanic Bill France used the plans he had scribbled on a barroom napkin to found NASCAR, which standardized stock car racing. 68 years after my arrival, my nephew works as a NASCAR engineer for driver Jamie McMurray’s team. I myself do not have the patience to watch grown men drive in circles, but many family members are enthusiastic fans. And all of us are proud of my nephew’s efforts that began in a dwarf car at Shady Bowl.
A few weeks later Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan, sending $13 billion to Europe to finance its economic recovery after the war. As America moved to strengthen the war-torn continent enough to stave off Communism, my parents had no idea their daughter, who had just begun to coo, would eventually visit ten of the seventeen countries that received American aid.
When I began tracking things with my eyes, TV Guide began to appear on newsstands, with my delighted discovery of television yet to come. My mother always considered me a walking TV Guide because I could recite the entire television schedule – well, for both stations. Until several years ago when the number of available stations became unwieldy, I read the small magazine filled with program listings and celebrity news cover to cover.
A month later the Jewish State of Israel was proclaimed in Palestine. Otherwise occupied by learning to babble, I could not know that political tensions there would continue throughout my lifetime. Nor did I realize that almost fifty years later I would travel there to marvel at banana plantations and camels in the desert. I soaked up sun on the Mediterranean beach and “waded” into the Dead Sea. And my walk through Jerusalem was memorable: seeing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of the Christian faith, the Western Wall visited by the Jewish faithful, and the Dome of the Rock shrine for Muslims – all coexisting in the same anciently-modern city – was an unforgettable experience.
At four months I was reaching for toys, while the Russians were grabbing international headlines in Germany. France, England, Russia, and the U.S. each occupied a sector of Germany and Berlin. With all of Berlin located in the Russian sector, that government blocked road and train access to the entire city. The United States and the United Kingdom flew in supplies during the Berlin Airlift: a year and 300,000 flights later, the Russians relented. The baby who had just learned to hold her head steady had no clue that she and her students would regularly travel the formerly-blockaded section of the Autobahn en route to Berlin.
Later, as I was stringing together vowel sounds, commercial flights began taking off and landing at the New York International Airport, commonly known as Idlewild for the golf course formerly occupying the space. Back then, I was busy learning to sit without support; but during my sophomore year at GHS the airport became John F. Kennedy International Airport. My first flight to Europe originated there in 1969, and the sprawling complex provided many adventuresome farewells and welcoming homecomings for my students and me.
To my surprise and interest, I am about a month older than Al Gore – yes, the Al Gore who duked it out for the White House with George Bush. After weeks of lawsuits and hanging chads, Gore had won the popular vote; but Bush took the presidency by virtue of his Electoral College victory.
I thought 2000 provided the craziest series of presidential election events possible – until this year. However, neither Al nor I had reached our first birthdays when another presidential campaign came to a bizarre conclusion. Polls consistently predicted Thomas Dewey, Republican governor of New York, would handily defeat Harry Truman, the incumbent Democrat who had led America into its postwar period. We have all seen the iconic if incorrect photo of the Chicago Tribune’s “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, and Truman occupied the White House four more years.
There was another birth of interest that fall. Queen Elizabeth II had her first child, who became the Prince of Wales and future King of England. When I was ten, I realized we were the same age and thought perhaps we could have a future together. However, with heirs to the throne stacking up over there, Charles is still waiting for the crown – and my girlhood dream faded two wives ago.
Go ahead. Do some birth year investigation. It is fascinating to realize now what was going on in the world during the years when we could not understand what it all meant. Who knows what surprises may be waiting…
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.