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Guest column | James Pettican

At 90, looking back and taking one day at a time

I've always been a fan of time travel stories but now I have a feeling of being in one — sort of. My 90th birthday has come and gone and here I am with 90 years of living in my rearview mirror. What do I do now?

Well, my various ailments and golden years gait exclude me from any more globe-trotting or doing anything very fast since it's either slow or no when it comes to tasks I used to do without having to think about them.

Fortunately, my brain appears to have retained all its circuits even though my legs never get out of low gear. My dice roll has been lucky in that I've had no major illnesses or operations and logged only three hospital nights in my lifetime, so far. Knock on wood!

Journalism is a job you can savor in your old age since you still have many important clippings and, now and then, you can Google and find writings you have forgotten.

Mostly though, I'm a child of the Great Depression and that has left me with both plus and minus signs.

My teen years were spent in the 1930s when families lived from day to day and clung to hope. My personable father sold industrial tools and machinery on commission and his weekly pay ranged from close to zero to amounts that were sky high for the time. We ate accordingly.

I have never been a big spender, always living a bit below my means although not to any extreme. My investments are conservative, but my politics are not because I remember how hard it was to get Social Security and Medicare woven into the social fabric, and now health care is repeating the same old story.

While our present recession is not an experience we sought, it does point out that there is much more in the way of safeguards and help today than there was back then.

The past seems panoramic now as I reminisce. I've seen cars go from cranks to computers and bulky Victrolas morph into iPods. I remember when doctors made house calls as a routine part of their practice and payments were usually less than today's copays.

There were no supermarkets in my childhood years, but my parents were usually good friends with the neighborhood grocer who, based on volume of purchases, would give them a price break once in a while.

Newspapers were plentiful and radio programs had us gathered around our set in the evening. Broadcasts from overseas always impressed us.

Candy for kids was priced by the penny and Saturday movie matinees were usually 10 or 15 cents. There was always a feature film (usually cowboys) and a serial. The latter would bring us back next week to see how the chapter-ending predicament was solved.

For most families, restaurant dining was rare and very special. Fast-food chains had not yet arrived on the scene. But nickel hot dogs were available a block away when I could wangle the price of one.

Then, World War II and the draft came along and when it was over and the post-war period had begun, I realized that I'd also been drafted into a much faster moving world. Its pace and complexity have been growing ever since.

Keeping up today means cell phones and computers, which I use regularly. (This column was produced on the latter.) I have recently joined Facebook but have yet to Tweet. I remember when you picked up the family telephone and gave an operator the number you were calling. No texting hazards back then, although we all drove around in cars without seat belts.

Young folks look ahead in terms of years and decades. Now that I'm a nonagenarian, I look ahead in terms of days and weeks, beginning with a triumphal getting out of bed each morning and hoping for a day filled with more positives than negatives.

So, I enter the 90s a bit surprised but hoping the surprise lasts a while longer.

Retired journalist James Pettican celebrated his 90th birthday on April 13. He lives in Palm Harbor.

At 90, looking back and taking one day at a time 04/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 5:16pm]
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