As a kid growing up in the 1980s, our textbooks and teachers taught us the past, the present, and even let us glimpse the future.
In the 1980s, the year 2000 was set as the benchmark year for many things, events, and milestones, some of which did not occur.
Moon bases. Flying cars. A cashless society. Robots clean our houses. The ever-threatening admonition from our teachers that we have to learn metrics because “by the year 2000 the whole world will be converted to the metric system”.
But my imagination 30 and 40 years ago went on, through 2015 and beyond: 2020, a nice, round and repeating number.
I remember writing creative stories in English class about what the future would be like. One hundred percent recycling processes, a global economic setback that puts the world on a more even playing field, a cure for HIV. Semi-computerized cars. A president. Connected computer networks.
I haven’t made all the predictions. The only things I almost met exactly were gasoline prices and the internet. Statistically, however, if you discard enough ideas, at least one or two of these will get targeted. My “close enough” moments were a manageable medical regimen for treating HIV; the first female vice president in history. Robot vacuum cleaner.
However, who could predict what else 2020 will bring? The first global pandemic since my grandparents were toddlers; polarized views about the political world; the continued struggle for social and racial justice; Riots that spilled over into and within the U.S. Capitol by 2021.
The present is not the almost utopian society of happiness that I imagined as a child full of hope and limitless imagination. There are no lunar bases yet. Your car will only fly if you climb a hill too fast. COVID-19 is something my family and I have tried to avoid – and have done successfully so far.
When I look at my now yellowed creative writing papers from all those years ago, I smile at the things I imagined. the things that happened one way or another and the things that were a 10, 16, or 17 year old’s wishful thinking.
Fast forward to the reality of 2020.
No question about it, 2020 was a tough year for everyone. Many friends and families have been hit by death, either from COVID-19, the passage of time, or other illnesses. As the author of eight local history books, 2020 was the year too many of my historian contacts died.
One of them was Eugene Deuel from Onsted, who died around Christmas time.
Mr. Deuel – he was one of the people I respected where I couldn’t call him Gene, just Mr. Deuel – was my go-to whenever I needed to know anything about Onsted from a professional or historical perspective. He immediately said, “Well, I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask,” downplaying his 80+ years of knowledge. Then it took him 10 to 15 minutes to reflect and answer my questions.
Mr. Deuel was a humble man, a church servant who worked out of the limelight, and Onsted – like the world – is a lesser place without him.
May others take Mr. Deuel’s legacy and reinforce it in the course of 2021 – be kind, humble, help others, do not seek recognition for our work, disagree and still be friends.
That is the measure we will remember; whether the symbolic measuring system is imperial or metric.
Dan Cherry is a historian from Lenawee County.