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Against the Dark

We’ve had three extras in our house for the past week or so because…well, you know the reason.

It’s been interesting. In an effort to stave off boredom, we signed up for Disney Streaming. It looked like a mistake when Number 3 printed off a list of 21 Marvel Avenger movies to be watched in order, but, really, that’s only about 40 hours of programming. You could knock that out in two days if you didn’t change your pajamas or waste time cooking. Doable.

In conversation during dinner, I mentioned Swiss Family Robinson and none of the three had any idea what I was talking about, which seemed like a tremendous gap in their knowledge base. I checked with Disney and, yes, there it was.

Our TV is too old to stream Disney, so we all crowded in my office to watch on the computer.

I was surprised that at sixty years old, it’s still a pretty good movie. The kids were captivated.

Life was different in 1960. The first thing we noticed was the women folk were helpless. They screamed a lot and tended to fall down when they were being chased by pirates.

That was weird. I remember 1960, and the women in my world were far from helpless. Of course, my experience was limited to mostly women who grew up on small farms during the Depression, and they were nothing to mess with. “Fragile blossom” was not a term that ever came up.

Another thing we noticed was that in 1960, it was hard work being an actor - for both humans and animals. No special effects or stunt people for the Swiss Family Robinson cast. If an actor needed to swing over a pond on a rope, he grabbed the rope and swung away. Today, with green screens and computers, you can invent anything you want. Back then, if you wanted to show a race with an ostrich, a zebra and a baby elephant you tossed your actors on board and off they raced.

There were other differences: very little blood, even fighting pirates, and romance was limited to a couple of kisses.

It was a good night, five of us crammed into my office, giggling at helpless women, baby elephants, and clumsy pirates.

I flashed back a few decades to when the children’s mother, aunt, and uncle were about the same age. We’d cram into the unheated porch, huddled under enormous quilts when it was cold enough to see your breath, watching movies to while away blizzard time. It’s funny that thinking back to the eighties when our kids were growing up seemed like a wonderful time. But the ‘80s is when the Challenger space shuttle exploded, the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl melted down, the US Embassy in Beirut was bombed, John Lennon was murdered, the AIDS epidemic - the list of traumatic events goes on and on.

We live in difficult times, with challenges that are hard to face. That’s always been true. It was true in 1960, equally true in the ‘80s and today. It’s also true that for many of us, with luck and time, this current challenge will recede in our memory and diminish in importance.

Sadly, not for all of us. My wife’s grandmother lost five of her siblings within two weeks during the 1918 flu epidemic. It left a mark that never went away and that’s a lesson we need to learn. One hundred years ago, medical professionals didn’t have nearly as much knowledge. Pay attention to what the experts say.

I loved watching the old movie with my grandchildren, and I loved the memories it invoked of our own children. In a world of change, some things never do. A child’s laugh, a family clinging together against the cold and dark, and a people facing darkness head on can be, should be, must be, constants.

Embrace the change; hang onto what matters.

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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