Is Trump just the beginning? Is the worst four years in U.S. history since the Civil War, that period when Trump was actually president, only a foretaste of what is to come? Are people going to look back 100 years from now and wonder why this educated, well-off population of Americans allowed themselves to be walked into a living hell, something akin to the worst the world suffered under Hitler?
My dad was packing parachutes at the Alameda Naval Air Station when I was born four months shy of D-Day in 1944. Technically, I am a member of the so-called “Silent Generation,” coming along just before the onset of the infamous Baby Boomers who bedevil us to this day.
I admit I never fit in with the Boomer generation, but then maybe that had more to do with being gay than being born just prior to the end of World War II. We Bentons of the California Coast were an odd stew of blue collar roots and smart, and in no sense elite. It’s true my older brother (by two years) went on to become the famous Dr. Stephen A. Benton, PhD., MIT grad and protege of Dr. Land, is credited with discovering white-light holography (the kind that is on your credit card). Steve got away from our nuclear family as soon as he could because dad was both jealous and violent, and he took that out mostly on Steve.
So, my brother became a famous and important scientist as a result of being made a refugee from a violent male chauvinist home.
As for my younger brother, Chris, he served two tours of duty in Vietnam mostly on boats in the delta that serviced the famous “swift boats.” He is a retired fireman, now merrily tilting toward octogenarianism.
Sadly, at the end of 2002, months after we three Benton Boys suffered the loss of both our parents, Steve was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He survived just about another year, dying to the mournful refrains of hundreds of adoring students that he’s taught or tutored at MIT’s world famous Media Lab, which he co-founded. I got to meet a number of them — way too smart for me, but gentle — at funeral services for my dear brother.
Steve’s wife, Jeannie, has gone on not only to see to the publication of my brother’s important scientific papers but to continue her own very important research on “adult neurogenesis in crayfish” as the “first-generation progenitors of the nervous systems of mammals, at Wellesley College.
I’ve been sad to discover how little of their work I was at all aware of.
But our dad, born in 1910, was quite a piece of work. When his dad deserted his family, he got his older sister to lie about his age and he was enlisted in the Navy at age 15. Only in the last year of his life (2002) did he mention to me in passing how he’d been “pursued” by older sailors in those days, but that, plus his own broken home, sadly helped shape who he became.
He and my mom were childhood sweethearts playing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. After they separated, it was another two decades before totally by chance they met in Santa Monica. My dad was a quasi-hippie biker who rode at the head of funeral processions. Stopped at a random light, who would walk across the intersection in front of him but my future mom. Reunion and romance, but hardly smooth sailing.
But with that war, Hitler was defeated and Western Civilization got another chance. The immediate post-war years were idyllic by all accounts, not just mine. My greatest crisis was being stuck at the bottom of steps from a pier leading to a landing where a heavy box of live bait had been off-loaded, and I was supposed to carry it up. The most terrible sense of dread and helplessness overwhelmed me.
But it was also when, at age 7, I published my first newspaper, The Benton Star. It was many years later that I learned the famous newspaperman, William Allen White, died the same week I was born.