Don Gale: A child’s bewilderment gives an old man confidence

(Photo courtesy of Don Gale) Ella, a great-granddaughter of Don Gale, sits bewildered at the chaos of a University of Utah basketball game.

I complain too much. It’s another penalty of aging — like getting up five times every night, producing more gas than Questar, and dreading stairs (up or down).

But my grandson sent a photo of one of my great-granddaughters. She’s wearing a red outfit with a block-U. She’s seated in a red arena seat at a basketball game. She enjoys a lollipop. Her blue eyes look to the left. She is obviously bewildered ... by the crowd of people ... by the noise of the band, cheering and loudspeakers ... by the man in a bird costume reaching out to her ... by the cavernous space.

But within a few days, weeks, months, that little girl’s bewilderment will turn to understanding. Countless promising transitions await her, just as they did when I was her age.

In those days long ago, the idea of spending a quarter to watch a basketball game was preposterous, let along one hundred times that amount. My family could afford perhaps one or two 50-cent movies a year. That was the extent of our entertainment. And the idea of spending money on a team jacket for a two-year-old? Outrageous. (There were no team jackets then, anyway, except for team members.)

My family’s cathedral-style console radio sat in the living room, shouting from breakfast ‘til bedtime – soap operas, children’s serials, entertainment, and, of course, news — Gabriel Heater (“There’s good news tonight”), H. V. Kaltenborn, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Winchell (“Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea”), Paul Harvey (“The Rest of the Story”), and others.

Television was 20 years away, but a wide-eyed youngster from Beaver, Utah, had already figured out how to make it work. He was perfecting the world-changing technology in his San Francisco lab. Other thoughtful youngsters were thinking about such revolutionary technologies as jet engines, air conditioning, rocket engines, FM radio, microwave ovens, satellites, computers and hundreds of other life-changing devices that would appear before I became old enough to turn grouchy.

No doubt, my wide-eyed great granddaughter and her cohorts will see hundreds of similar life-improving technologies before they marvel at their own great-grandchildren.

The same with health care. When I was a child, someone from the health department came to our house to hang “Quarantined” signs when my brother and I had chicken pox, measles, mumps, whooping cough and other childhood diseases. And sometimes at night I woke in a panic, convinced that I had polio like too many of my friends.

Through the modern miracles of health science, my wide-eyed great granddaughter won’t have to worry about those things. And if her knee begins to fail her in 60 years, she can get a new one. Thousands of advances in health care over my lifetime will make her life more enjoyable, less stressful and at least 10 years longer.

Perhaps she and her cohorts will find answers to cancer, Alzheimer’s, addiction disease, Parkinson’s and other illnesses that plague us today. If her generation does not find answers, the generation following hers almost certainly will.

What about social issues that threaten us — climate change, traffic congestion, war, bigotry, discrimination, and so on? Those problems are created by human beings. By definition, then, they can be solved by human beings. The future is in the capable hands of our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren.

Will all humanity’s problems go away? Of course not. Our remarkable bodies and minds are problem-solving miracles. We need challenges the way we need oxygen and food.

So far, almost every generation has identified and solved enough problems to make life better than the generation that came before – more informed, more comfortable, more congenial, and more civilized ... despite complaints from old geezers like me.

And it all begins with the marvelous bewilderment of childhood.

Don Gale, a longtime Utah journalist, recalls a lifetime of evidence showing that the promise of human progress will be with us for generations to come.