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Cory Franklin is a Wilmette, Illinois, physician and author of the book “The Doctor Will See You Now.”
This year has been an annus horribilis, including 275,000 COVID-19 deaths to date. Many newsmakers from the past have died as well, some from COVID, some not. Most of those who died are known barely, if at all, by today’s generation. When writer Russell Baker perused obituaries of those from his generation, he called himself “a creature from another planet” enjoying a “harmlessly spiteful pleasure” — young people who could never enjoy his contemporaries and their accomplishments.
My take on the 2020 obituaries differs. Instead of spiteful, I feel sad for those who will never experience the enjoyment and satisfaction of:
The surge of pride witnessing John Lewis join arms with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons marching from Selma to Montgomery. And the aftermath — the emerging awareness that America could be a better country.
The frisson of sitting in the dark at the movies, watching “Goldfinger.” Sean Connery as James Bond, dodging the lethal top hat of the henchman, Oddjob, then deftly dispatching him by electrocution just before America’s gold supply is rendered radioactive. And the film’s finale: Bond cozying up to the gorgeous Honor Blackman, the actress whose character’s name will go unmentioned in the interest of good taste.
The delight of seeing Honor Blackman’s equally gorgeous replacement, Dame Diana Rigg, on television’s “The Avengers” in smashing outfits smiting assorted evildoers. For those who know her only as Lady Olenna Tyrell on “Game of Thrones,” you really missed something when Rigg was young.
The joy Carl Reiner brought to one of television’s great half-hours: “The Dick Van Dyke Show” episode “Coast to Coast Big Mouth.” After Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) tells a national television audience that Reiner’s character, Alan Brady, is bald, she comes to his office to apologize. Reiner tells the toupees lined up on his desk, “There’s the woman who put you out of business.”
The pleasure of Gale Sayers darting gracefully past the sure tackling Green Bay Packers — Herb Adderley, Willie Davis and Willie Wood — who grasp futilely at air as Sayers glides toward the end zone. On the Packers sideline, the Golden Boy, Paul Hornung, awaiting his chance against the Chicago Bears.
The shock of Chicago Cub fans in 1969 as New York Mets ace Tom Seaver crushes their hopes, pitching a near-perfect game in July and beating them again in a crucial September game that remains forever notorious for the black cat that mysteriously appeared and paraded ominously before the Cubs dugout. The decadeslong curse would live on for another 47 years — the juju of the black cat. Adding insult to injury, Seaver later won his 300th game pitching for the Chicago White Sox.
Elsewhere in baseball, the thrill of Bob Gibson, the St. Louis Cardinal and meanest man on the pitcher’s mound, staring down Joe Morgan before he backs Morgan off the plate with a fastball inside. Morgan, no slouch in the competitiveness department, never concedes as he flaps his back arm to keep his batting stance correct, a technique taught to him by White Sox Nellie Fox.
The pure adrenaline when seeing the raw energy of Little Richard play piano and sing “Tutti-Frutti” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.” Little Richard was of the 1950s but his electricity carried into the 1960s and beyond.
The aural experience of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition singing early psychedelia, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” The Beatles and Jefferson Airplane had done psychedelic before, but never exactly like this.
Boomers sometimes display condescension toward young people’s lack of a sense of history. Likewise, when millennials and Gen Xers read articles like this, if they read them at all, they are apt to dismiss them as mere bushwa — boomers swaddling themselves in nostalgia ad nauseam. But there can be common ground: The satisfaction and relief these memories provided are thankfully far removed from COVID, politics and the hurly-burly of today’s daily life. These people were so much more than “OK, boomer.”
Fifty years hence, I sincerely hope younger generations will be lucky enough to recall their deceased contemporaries as fondly.