Monday, May 14, 2007

The Big 5-0

"One always expects more life..."
(Image from Wikipedia)

Not the Hawaii 5-0, though the Big 5-0 can hit you in the face like a nice Hawaiian Punch.

And those cultural references date me already. Yes, I turn 50 today, for I was born on May 14th, way back in 1957 -- a mere 4 years after the end of the Korean War and only 12 years after WWII. These days, I teach about such things as part of history, and my students look at me in wonder when they find out that I was born so soon after those enormously momentous events.

When I was a little kid, however, both of those wars felt to me more deeply buried in the past than did WWI, for I lived with my maternal grandparents, who kept on their bedroom wall a large photo of Grandpa Perryman and his brother, Uncle Joe, dressed in their doughboy uniforms, ready to fight the Germans way back when that was a fight against the arrogant German Kaiser rather than the far more frightening German Führer.

Just down the highway from our place was a log building that served as a meeting hall for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), of whom my grandpa was one, obviously. He used to keep his WWI helmet and rifle in our house and occasionally take them with him to the VFW meetings. I imagined that he was heading off to war...

He was already 65 or more years old, having been born in 1895.

But he was young compared to his mother-in-law, Grandma Shell, who was born about 1877 and took a liking to me. She spoke to me of the Civil War as though she had lived it -- despite having been born as long after that as I had been after WWII.

Now that I have taught so much history, none of these great events seem so far in the past, but one thing that you learn from life, I suppose, is that the past can't be undone. The world might have become a better place if Europe hadn't taken a wrong path in 1914, for we might have avoided both Soviet Communism and German Fascism and the millions of deaths that these ideologies brought in their wake. Colonialism might have had a softer, more democratic landing.

Korea wouldn't have been divided, nor would it have experienced its own civil war. And yet ... I might not have met Sun-Ae. Sa-Rah and En-Uk might not have existed. I might not have existed. That's always been one of the objections to time travel, that in undoing the past, one undoes oneself, whereby one cannot undo the past, for one does not exist. It boggles the mind.

Perhaps turning 50 should also boggle my mind. Amba of AmbivaBlog has written of turning 50, and some boggling seems to have taken place for her:
Nine years ago, when I was 52 and just emerging from the shock of "the death of youth" -- what Sara Davidson calls "the narrows" and my dreams insisted was a "dark wood" -- I started writing a book of short essays about this life passage, which nothing had prepared me for.
Amba didn't finish the book, but she has recently resuscitated some of those essays on her blog, which you can read through in two posts.

So far, the big 5-0 hasn't done much boggling with my mind. Maybe it will, but I've all along noticed my body aging as I've said good-bye to various things. I used to play a lot of basketball, and I noticed quite early on, about my mid-twenties or so, that physical decline had set in. An inability to consistently dunk two-handed. Then one-handed. Then failing to block shots. Then having one's own shots consistently blocked. Then giving up on basketball...

Recently, people around my age but from an earlier me have been getting in touch, perhaps because we're all hitting the big 5-0 and want to see who's survived.

Well, everybody, at 50 years, "I'm Still Here."



At 7:45 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Happy Birthday!

Just think of it as half a century:)

I stopped counting after the big 50.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Hathor. Yes, a half-century, that ... uh, helps.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

Is it OK for me to be a decade and change younger than you and still get those two cultural references (in fact, Hawaii 5-0 was the first thing I thought of when I saw the post title in my feed reader)?

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I may well be that getting just past that big 5-0 has something to do with it. I had to call my Mom to verify something about the old VFW (yes I'd already called to Happy Momma Day). It served as a church too, that is until "late '63" according to her. She also said it served as "The American Legion".

But Jeff, as well as a heartfelt Happy Birthday, I guess you're not too far from the point where your students will exclaim, "But Mr Hodges, that was during the last milennium !"

Just joking, I think. Now where did I leave my reading glasses, my hearing aids, my aspirin? Hold on, I was going up the stairs wasn't it?


At 9:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, that makes you either prematurely old or one of the younger viewers watching as Hawaii 5-0 tapered off in the late 70s.

Thanks for the b-day greetings.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK is always JoKing -- but thanks for the wishes, nonetheless.

I guess that I didn't notice the church at the American Legion log building because on Sunday mornings, I was always in church on the other side of town.

Later on, in the early 70s, that same log building was a halfway house for Jesus Freaks -- as they were called back then.

I remember one of the local toughs, name of "Bobby" -- and a also a certain doctor's kid whose name escapes me -- sitting in the back and snickering as the genuine hypocrite who led the half-hearted halfway services looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Those were the daze...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday...

I've always been into history - much more than my friends my age (or even older growing up) --- but it still didn't blunt terribly much the thought that hit me one day when teaching middle schoolers here in the US ---- that for them, they had little inkling what the Cold War was.........later, I mentioned a "walkman" and somebody seriously asked what it was and someone said, "An I-Pod" --- and I knew I had grown up at last....

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

USinK, my students gave me blank looks when I mentioned The Talking Heads, so I'm now opening each class with a five-minute music video from the Stop Making Sense concert to bring young students up to date ... so to speak.

I enjoy the videos myself and rationalize my decision not as entertainment but as culture for my British and American Culture course...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:58 PM, Blogger Deogolwulf said...

Happy birthday, old chap.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Deogolwulf, and I reckon that I should read that as old chap, eh?

But I don't feel a day over 49!

Two more and a half hours, though, and I will...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

생일 축하합니다!

I'm 15 years and change younger, but also got the 5-0 ref due to watching reruns in the early 80s.

When I was younger I used to think that older folks were more mature in how they did things and looked at life. True that some are, but now I view those my age on up as merely big kids that have learned a few tricks, have more responsibilities and have gone past the point of no return (escalating commitment) in careers, marriages, etc. Put back the hair and take off a few pounds, and the same kids are driving, for a lot of folks anyway.

While I’ve learned a lost since ~20, and several preferences have changed, I don’t really feel that different at all. Except my back, freedom from the need of a comb, inability to consume alcohol at the same rate (or the desire to), etc.

So while you’re now 50, I don’t imagine it’s too different than 30 or 70.

At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Jeffery! I'm sure you've heard of the saying that growing old is better than the alternative.

I'm still recovering from 'the shock of "the death of youth"' when I reached the big 4-0 two years ago. People in their thirties, especially those still single and childless, can mingle with those in their twenties and still feel young. Once that 3 rolls over into a 4, it doesn't feel right to be socializing with people fresh out of college with few work or life experiences.

Like Charles, I watched Hawaii 5-0 as a kid. I'll let you in on a couple of secrets - Jack Lord was my first celebrity crush and I secretly dig Asian men with longish hair because they remind me of the show.

At 4:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Richardson, for the Korean birthday greetings.

As for my age ... so, you're saying that I'm already as good as 70? I really am over the hill...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sonagi, but growing younger would be a good alternative, too.

You know -- well, probably you don't, which is why I'm telling you -- despite the Hawaii 5-0 reference, I actually never much watched the show.

In my Ozark town, only one channel got reception, channel 3 out of Springfield, Missouri, which was NBC, so I couldn't watch Hawaii 5-0 until I went off to university, when I no longer had time to watch. But as a cultural reference point, the show was well-known to me.

It was strange, growing up watching only NBC, then going off to college, where everybody else had seen shows from all three broadcasting companies.

For the first time, I learned of Monty Python -- and did watch that. Somehow, between classes, studying, and working, I managed to add a little British irony to my life...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It was strange, growing up watching only NBC, then going off to college, where everybody else had seen shows from all three broadcasting companies."

I can relate. My parents were die-hard CBS fans during the decade of the 70s when ABC's youthful line-up propelled it past CBS to claim the top spot in the ratings. We watched All in the Family, Good Times, and The Waltons while our friends laughed along with Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley and oohed and aahed at the stunts of the Six Million Dollar Man, the Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman. We only got to watch the reruns during the summer.

What were your favorite toys and what were your favorite movies growing up? My favorite toys were my Barbie collection, especially the Happy Family, the black version of the Sunshine Family. I always got the black versions of trendy dolls because a middle-class neighborgirl got the white versions first and I didn't want the exact same thing since we played together. It was unusual, I suppose, since I lived in a small town that was 99% white. My mom would ask, "Are you sure you want the black doll?" She wasn't being racist. She just wanted to make sure I wasn't pressured by the neighborgirl into not getting the white one. If Asian, Hispanic, and Muslim barbies had been available, I would have asked for them, too.

My favorite movies were It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Tora Tora Tora, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Herbie the Lovebug, and Star Wars.

At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and one more thing - I envy you for having come of age in the turbulent, exciting period of the late 60s/early 70s. Tell us few stories, won't you? If you don't mind.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Happy Birthday.
50 is (hermetically) a "triumphal and justice" number. Not bad at all.

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, my family was rather poor, and we lived without a car in an isolated town lacking a cinema, so I didn't have a lot of toys or see a lot of movies.

But we had board games like Monopoly, which I did like. We played card games like "Spoons" -- get two cards alike, grab a spoon (5 brothers, 4 spoons, a bit like musical chairs).

We played a lot of sports and walked a lot for fun, or went fishing ... even hunting.

As we became teenagers, we began working at summer jobs of various sorts, and when I had enough money, I bout a bicycle. I also used to deliver Grit, a 'family' newspaper.

I've told some stories on my blog. Perhaps this would be a time to label them for ease in finding.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, thanks for the hermetic birthday greetings.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, that should have read "I bought a bicycle," not "I bout a bicycle."

I certainly didn't fight one, as a "bout" might suggest.

I guess that I'm getting senile already . . . now that I'm old.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:04 PM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Happy Birthday!

(It's still May 14 here.)

At 12:10 PM, Blogger amba said...

Happiest of birthdays!! May you live another half century and change in good health, if not playing basketball.

(Looking back, 50 doesn't seem like such a big deal now. In fact, it was kinda the end of things being a big deal -- with rare exceptions like births, deaths, and marriages.)

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

CIV, I thought that the 14th might still be the American date. In America, I'm still not a day over 49!


Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Amba, thanks for the birthday greetings. I was hoping that you'd notice since I borrowed from your own thoughts.

I look forward to the next 50 years of couples marrying and bearing children.

I'm steeling myself, however, for the inevitable deaths.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nah, saying you're as good as 30!

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I also used to deliver Grit, a 'family' newspaper."

Now there's name I haven't heard in a long time.

You may have been poor in money but rich in imagination and wide open spaces to play. I feel sorry for kids glued to their Playstations and Gameboys.

BTW, most of my favorite movies I watched not in a theater but on television. I wasn't born yet when many of those movies were made.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Richardson, 30 and 70.... Hey! That's 100!

Damn, time really flies when you get old. Seems like only yesterday, I was a strapping 50.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I did watch a lot of late-night movies on television with my four brothers when we were supposed to be sleeping on the sofa bed ... conveniently and therefore temptingly close to the television.

I recall seeing a lot of WWII movies...

By the way, I think that Grit is still in business.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You didn't mention reading books anywhere in your comments about having fun as a kid. Were you a reader? What/who were your favorite stories/authors?

At 3:06 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...


So sorry I'm late to the litany of well wishes. You deserve all of them.

Belated happy birthday!

At 3:44 AM, Blogger N.E. Brigand said...

Happy Belated Birthday! I watched a lot of old late-night movies as a kid too. Hammer horror and the Bowery Boys, mostly. That stuff isn't on local TV anymore.

At 4:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, from one baby boomer to another. I am not yet 50, but I am turning 49 next month...

At 4:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I read every book for children and teenagers in the local library, including those old romance books meant for teenage girls.

There wasn't much great literature in that library, but at home, I did find a copy of my Uncle Harlan's college literature anthology, and I can still recall reading Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I loved immediately.

I also read some stories by Poe, maybe Dickens's Christmas Carol, and a lot of Shakespeare and selections from other great English literature in my high school English courses.

I even recall reading Philip Roth's early short story "The Conversion of the Jews" in my high school English class.

But I didn't really discover literature until I went off to university, where I encountered Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekov, and eventually Bulgakov, among other Russian greats. Those were writers who opened my eyes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, KM. I knew that you'd come around to visit me on my death bed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, NEB. I believe that it's been a while since I last heard from you ... somehow. You must have posted something once.

Anyway, much thanks for the birthday greetings. Did you also have only a black-and-white television set?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Rhea, thanks for the birthday wishes, and same to you on your upcoming 49th.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:19 AM, Blogger N.E. Brigand said...

No, it was color set, in the late 1970s-early 1980s, and we had five channels: affiliates of NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS, plus an independent station. But most of them still signed off for a few hours in the early morning.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ours was a black-and-white hand-me-down from relatives or friends, depending on the particular television set.

I remember them from the early 60s onward.

I'm not sure if we ever had a color set while I was still living in the Ozarks, but I didn't watch much as I grew into my latter teenage years.

That would have taken too much time away from my "Wild Wild Life."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:55 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

A very, very belated Happy 50th!

May the second half-century be as interesting as the first.


At 10:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Kevin, thanks -- even if belatedly -- but as for another 50 years, I wonder if I can take that many more ... especially if they're as 'interesting' as the first 50.

Jeffery Hodges

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