Picture yourself as the youngest person at a 95th birthday party in a retirement community. Now ignore the canes and walkers, speak a little louder than usual and bend down a little so you can hear the soft, age-weakened-voices that began talking long before World War II. Around you are fifteen tables collectively filled with centuries of wisdom and life experience. As you become acquainted with the partygoers and learn of their accomplishments, challenges, quick wit and travel experiences in countries that no longer exist, you realize you are at one of the most interesting and fun birthday parties you have ever attended.
The person of honor, Hal, is a budding watercolor artist that paints his own Christmas cards each year. He is also a retired research physicist with a book full of patents and the purest intellectual curiosity you could ever imagine. He’s a soft-spoken, thoughtful man that naturally shows respect for the thoughts and opinions of others. His respectful discourse is sincere and not driven by political correctness; he’s just being what he has always been, a gentleman. And despite being 95 years old he moves with a light, lively gait that this fifty-six year old envies.
Hal remembers when lamplighters walked the streets of Buffalo at dusk, vendors delivered goods by horse drawn cart and the piers and train yards buzzed with activity before the St. Lawrence Seaway opened. He can tell you what it was like to develop radar at MIT for the War Effort in the forties and how he came up with a simple solution that resolved the electrical problem GE was having with the “Flip Flash”. Hal remembers when transistors were the hot new technology; the “Ping Putter” was just a friend’s interesting idea and when air travel was comfortable.
About a week ago Hal gave a talk on marijuana at the community’s lecture series, Timely Topics. As a scientist and researcher he approached the subject looking for the truth and shared with me how the study of marijuana (cannabis) was railroaded by politics and personal gain. Early in our country’s history marijuana was grown not only for the making of hemp rope but it was also used to produce quality paper products and clothing. George Washington farmed marijuana and rumors are the first Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. But in the 1930’s business giants, Andrew Mellon, the DuPont family and William Randolph Hearst were all interested in seeing the Hemp industry go away. Hearst had invested large sums of money in the making of paper via tree pulp, not hemp, so he was more than happy to publish articles on the fictional demonic powers of marijuana. Most people that read the articles did not know the information was inaccurate, false or fabricated for personal gain. Later all those articles were bound and given to our political leaders to use as reference materials.
In 1937 our political leaders passed the Marijuana Tax Act that made it illegal to produce cannabis and hemp. Since 1942 it has been nearly impossible to do professional (not personal) research on marijuana to determine its true benefits and risks. Intrigued by his broad knowledge of the subject I asked this 95-year-old how he learned so much about the history of marijuana, he responded like a twenty year old, “the internet”.
Since Hal is well read and traveled I asked him what his most interesting travel experience was. Without hesitation he answered, “Our 1986 photo safari to Kenya. We saw animals, mountains, and people that were so exotic. But I guess that is what we hoped to see and that’s why we went.”
Hal shot forty rolls of Kodachrome on that trip and recently had the slides transferred to a CD. Sadly he was disappointed with the quality of work; the slides were not blown clean of dust and lint prior to copying, the colors were flat and the contrast was not adjusted. So the last night I was in town I downloaded the jpegs and did what I could to bring back the colors of Africa as Hal remembered them. The photos you see in this post are all Hal’s, the young 95-year-old birthday boy. I hope you enjoy them!