Tomorrow, July 1st, I will celebrate three-quarters of a century on this planet. This has me thinking about Canada, the number 75, and the year 1948.
As an American schoolboy I once wrote an essay that began: “On the day I was born, people celebrated with parades, picnics, and fireworks. Okay, it was Dominion Day in Canada.” July 1 is now Canada Day, and it’s still my birthday.
Many of us in the Seattle area do have a touch of Canadaphilia. We can watch CBC on local cable, we look forward to weekends in Vancouver, and we have tried to understand hockey. As we drink our Molson’s out of a Stanley cup, we may think of Washington as Baja British Columbia, but we assiduously avoid ending our sentences with “eh”.
A Magic Number
The significance of the number 75 began in my boyhood hometown, a Northwest Iowa farming community. Sioux Center, Iowa, is neatly bisected by U.S. Highway 75, a road that once served as a north-south corridor in the center of the nation, running from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, much of the road’s traffic has been diverted to nearby Interstate 29, but if you open a road atlas to the two-page map of the Lower 48, you will still find remnants of Highway 75 right along the crease. When I was young, the highway was our stage for an endless procession of cars and trucks bearing license plates from exotic places like Manitoba, Oklahoma, and Texas.
My father had a grocery store on the highway, and from the age of five I worked there on Saturdays, sweeping floors and stocking shelves. On my tenth birthday, Dad promoted me to the check-out stand, where I could spot a Highway 75 traveler the instant they walked in the door. Realizing that as cashier I had a captive audience, I eagerly peppered them with questions about life in their distant lands. 75 meant discovery!
In 1975 I graduated from law school at the University of Iowa and moved to Seattle. Although my career has taken me to other places, the shores of Puget Sound have been my center of gravity. Now, my 75th birthday is the first official day of retirement, and after a teaching stint in Omaha, I have returned home for good.
And consider the following: It is inarguable that 75 is the ideal outside temperature (sorry, Canadians, but 23.89 lacks cachet). No matter what you wear—shorts, jeans, T-shirt, sweater—you are comfortable.
The number 75 makes an excellent speed limit (again, apologies to our neighbors, but 120 sounds so dangerous). You feel nicely in control, and the miles fly by.
I am told that 75 is the diamond anniversary, but here I beg to differ. Do people seriously think a faceted piece of carbon is an appropriate gift for someone my age? Note to my children: a bottle of 15-year Canadian whiskey makes far more sense.
The Fruits of 1948
Not surprisingly, the year of my birth produced much more than a curious boy sporting a pocket protector. Let’s consider the real fruits of 1948.
The formal system of international human rights was born with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the past two decades I have taught the subject at Creighton Law School, and I have emphasized to my students that this field of law is relatively young. I would be pleased if they would apply that description to me as well.
Two of my other law school courses have been international trade regulation and European Union law. Coincidentally, in 1948 the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade took effect, laying the groundwork for the World Trade Organization, while the Hague Conference that year set in motion what would eventually become the EU.
Remarkably, 1948 also witnessed the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Constitution of the World Health Organization. The seeds of NATO were planted through the 1948 Treaty of Brussels. Meanwhile, Israel was declaring its independence, while Newfoundlanders went the other direction, voting to join Canada as its tenth province. 1948 is an international law professor’s dream.
The British National Health Service was born in 1948. It has had some problems recently, but universal health coverage has been one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Hats off to Canada for following this path, and the United States . . . well, we’re still waiting.
On the U.S. front, in 1948 President Harry Truman signed an executive order ending racial segregation in the Armed Forces. ABC television began broadcasting. NASCAR ran its first race, and Cadillac’s ‘48 model was its first to sport tail fins. In the city I would eventually call home, a group of skilled climbers established Seattle Mountain Rescue; forty years later I became a member.
A great many pop culture icons were born in 1948. To name a few: James Taylor, Dianne Wiest, Phylicia Rashad, Billy Crystal, Kathy Bates, and the greatest actor of all time, Samuel L. Jackson. Canada, you gave us Bobby Orr, Margot Kidder, and Phil Hartman. Also, after a protracted apprenticeship, one member of our cohort has become King of England. Yes, Charles III—born on November 14, 1948—has finally landed a proper job, and we wish him a tolerable commute and decent health care benefits.
Also in the arts, we have 1948 to thank for Shirly Jackson’s magnificent short story, “The Lottery,” and books such as Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, and Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. Films that year included Key Largo, Red River, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and our lives have been forever enhanced by the year’s unveiling of Scrabble and Velcro.
The Road Ahead
I trust that NATO and Velcro will carry on, but for us Baby Boomers who make it to 75 this year, in reality we are not relatively young. We cannot escape the fact that we have nearly reached our sell-by date. From that perspective, whatever lies ahead is gravy, and I suggest we ladle it generously over french fries and cheese curds. Our Canadian friends would approve. One could do worse than be an eater of poutine.