Those of us with a few years behind us know that Moses was of course Charlton Heston. Spartacus, the Roman slave, was not Russell Crowe but Kirk Douglas. And the movie Exodus starred a youngish guy named Paul Newman, who was Jewish. The girls loved Newman since he was a good-looking dude. The older girls reading this column will know what I mean.
I mention some of the above because I teach history and often allude to figures from the past.
However, my allusions to anything more than fifteen or twenty years ago in a class of university or college students stands little chance of being understood.
Ask a Millennial why Jack Kennedy was so attracted to Marilyn Monroe and more than likely you will get a blank stare. If they have been in my classes or classes, they will think, “there he goes again, what is he talking about?!”
Ask a sixty or seventy or eighty-year old (ninety-year olds tend to have forgotten why a Monroe and Kennedy would even want to get together) and the guys will see the blonde bombshell in their mind’s eye as she tried to keep her skirt from blowing up too far and revealing more than a pair of sexy legs as she stood over a vent on some street in New York. The shot is iconic, but icons change.
While the body ages, the mind, on the other hand, maintains a freshness that often belies the state of most body parts slowly descending from gravity and age. I know dementia and Alzheimer’s can rob one’s memory, but with a few lapses now and then, most normal memories are fresh.
But the mind can be tricky. It can lead you to believe that what happened ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty or more years ago falls in the same category as what happened five years ago.
I cannot, for example, refer to a Studebaker as an old car. No one under the age of thirty or forty knows even what a Studebaker was. “Is he talking about Marilyn Monroe again? Was her last name something like Studebaker?”
No, for the young, an old car might be a Corvair or an antique such as a Nova. Say, “well, Ford sure missed it with the Edsel,” and it’s Greek to them.
I told them once I remember seeing one of the first television sets in 1952. I might as well have been talking of listening to Alexander Graham Bell make the first telephone call sometime back in the Middle Ages, wasn’t it? How old is this guy?
So, I have to be careful in my allusions to the recent past. Having gone past the age of seventy makes my recent past almost ancient history.
“He likes to talk. Perhaps he learned from Cicero. I think they lived in the same time since he said Cicero was a pretty good orator and well worth imitating.”
The one group of students I can let it all hang out are my Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) students, an organization to promote learning for us senior citizens. Everyone knows Charlton Heston was Moses, Marilyn Monroe was a work of art, and Tricky Dick Nixon was the president who gave us Watergate.
I can allude to Jimmy Carter lusting in his heart, Ronald Reagan bringing down the Wall, and for the real oldsters, “We Like Ike” buttons and Mamie and Billy Graham, all in the same breath.
I’ve recently gotten involved interviewing World War Two veterans. One tanker fought with George Patton as he stormed through Europe. Joe Shannon, from Birmingham, shot down German Messerschmitt 109s over Africa in his P-38 Lightning, although he developed a lot of respect for those German fighters.
My generation was pre- and early-Vietnam era, although I was stationed in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. I can connect with the young students though. I was in Gitmo for three weeks once on refresher training.
“So, what was Gitmo like, with all those Jihadist prisoners?”
Tough place to visit I might answer, moving on rapidly. How does one explain a world where no Jihadists were trying to kill us and Gitmo had a nice Officer’s Club where we could get a superb Cuban rum and coke with a great view of the harbor?
We only worried about the Soviets raining nuclear missiles down on us, not zealots running around with explosives inside their underwear. It was a different world.
Published as “Will the Real Moses Stand Up, Please?” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Oct. 30, 2016.