October 12th, 2019

caillebotte_the balcony

Still Aging

Good sleep continues to elude me, and today I woke up too early again ate a restless night. Still the need to get the banking done led me to take the bus this afternoon, and after visiting the bank I went to a couple of the nearby stores. I didn't buy much there, but a couple of the items I did buy were sorely needed. I now have a loaf of fresh French bread to go with the pot of beans I'm cooking.

Later in the afternoon I walked to CVS for beer, stopping along the way at the Goodwill store to check on the books. I did find one, that being a trade paperback copy of Frederick Lewis Allen's Only Yesterday, his series of essays on the 1920s, published in 1931. This book was required reading in one of my high school social science classes, so I read it going on six decades ago, and later bought my own copy.

When I first read the book, my high school's faculty and administration included many people who had actually lived through the 1920s, and a few who hadn't, since the book was then thirty years old. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that I am now older than the oldest teacher I had in high school. That was probably Mr. Austin, the gym coach, who retired the year after I graduated. He must have been born when Victoria was still Queen of England.

Lewis's book will soon be three times as old as it was when I first read it, when I found its subject matter undeniably quaint. If this book is still being read in high schools today, the kids must see it the way my high school self saw books about the Civil War era. The 1920s are as far in the past for them as the Civil War then was to me. The copy I bought today was published in 2000. This copy is older than I was when I first read the book. In fact it might well have been printed only a few months before I started this journal.

How strange it seems to have become a relic, myself. I wonder what Allen would have said about an age when people were writing about his book on a computer and immediately publishing what they said to the Internet? It's too bad we will never know. He was an excellent writer, but he died much too young, seven years before I first read his book.