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Friday Takeaway: My 100th birthday wishes

  • Frances Crowe at her home in Northampton



For the Bulletin
Thursday, March 07, 2019

Since my birth 100 years ago in Carthage, Missouri, many things have changed.

Sadly and unconscionably, the capacity of the United States to wage war, exploit developing nations, contribute to climate disruption and marginalize the poor has changed, only for the worse.

Biplanes carrying World War I flying aces morphed into nuclear bombers after the so-called “war to end all wars” — which, it didn’t. When I was 26, the United States fulfilled its demonic dream of harnessing nuclear energy for weaponry, dropped atomic bombs to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and opened Pandora’s Box to the potential devastation of not only nuclear weapons but also nuclear power.

When I was growing up in Carthage, such horror never occurred to us.

U.S. imperialism marches unchecked and immoral throughout the world, these days without welcoming refugees whose homes we’ve destroyed. Once we had the longest unguarded border in the world, and once the Statue of Liberty proudly welcomed “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — the ancestors of all of us.

In the deceitful name of regime change or democratization, we’ve devastated Iraq, Afghanistan, Central American nations, and Syria just as, before I was born, the United States fostered the genocide of Native Americans, South Pacific Islanders and others.

Unchecked American industrialism and our addiction to automobiles, airplane travel and industrial food, to name a few things, have contributed to the greatest climate crisis since the great ice age. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s a barbarous old story.

Television hadn’t been invented when I grew up in Carthage, never mind computers. We didn’t know from digitization or streaming. We had telephones, and a human being, usually a woman, personally asked for the number we wanted to call when we picked up our handpiece to initiate one: “Number, please?” We might find ourselves listening in to other calls on what we called a party line.

My father, William Chauncey Hyde, ran a heating and plumbing business, and we had the most modern furnace and indoor plumbing. Like everyone else in those days before electric or gas refrigeration, we had an icebox on our porch. The iceman came every few days with refill blocks of ice so that our food would stay cold.

Women got the right to vote the year I was born. We had a Ford motor car with running boards — six-inch-wide, rubber-covered metal strips that ran the length of the car. Some of the boys loved to stand on them. Maximum speed? Sixty-five miles per hour, although likely without boys standing on the running board.

We had a Victrola to play hard rubber records in the days before vinyl. RCA Victor Corporation trademarked the name Victrola, and ten-inch grooved disks often played on only one side. We cranked the Victrola so that the disk revolved on a turntable. Then we moved a metal arm down to the turning disk so that the arm’s needle reverberated through a mechanical speaker to reproduce the sounds in the disk’s grooves.

Most women wore dresses, and I do not remember women who wore slacks when I was a child. My mother, Anna Heidlage Hyde, made our clothes. My mother worked hard in our home with the help of an African-American woman who came once a week to assist with cleaning. At least once, Carthage sponsored a public hanging, which my mother thought was deplorable.

One of my older female cousins studied physical education, and I admired her independence. I loved physical games, and I certainly remember the days when women’s basketball meant that each team remained on just one half of the court.

Since my birth 100 years ago, our country has legalized contraception and abortion, passed sweeping civil rights laws and integrated public establishments, including schools.

As I prepare to celebrate my 100th birthday on March 15, I hope that the United States and its citizens find the moral insight and courage to stop war of all kinds, end the exploitation of other countries and our own people, begin to stop climate disruption by eating local and driving less, end the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear power and foster fair and equitable employment for all workers.

What a happy birthday it would be if all my wishes came true.

A 1977 Gazette article described Frances Crowe as “a long-time anti-war activist.” The founder of the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts, Crowe continues her pioneering peace work today.