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To my fellow grads at Annandale High School, Annandale, Virginia

September 2006

   
 

WHAT DID I LEARN IN SCHOOL TODAY…

by

Paul Steucke, Class of 1957, and Author of “Burbia Boy”, a memoir of growing up in Northern Virginia.

   
 
   
 

Life is a trip, from birth to death. From point A to point B. Or as some might see it, as a trip from point A around in a circle back to point A again. The older I get the more I realize that living is the classroom that teaches us about life and death. Day by day, night by night, our generation has slowly reached and crossed the meridian of our life span until we our now closer to the probable end than when we graduated from  high school. It is a sobering realization Fifty-two years ago Fairfax County completed and opened a new high school that combined students from two rival schools into a new high school in Annandale, Virginia. I recall the September opening was hot, dry, and dusty. The huge dirt moving machines were still bouncing, scraping and moving the red clay off the athletic fields

 

 

 

I lived off Braddock Road in a group of houses called Braddock Acres. (Hey, at least they did not call it Braddock Estates). The road went up and down and under overhanging trees like a narrow black tar roller coaster. The area had small farms, a few houses on large lots, summer heat, cicadas that sang in the night and gnats that insisted on flying into your eyes and up your nose. We drove to Alexandria, Glen Echo or Washington, DC to find a swimming pool. Basketball, tennis, and baseball fields did not exist. We made do with a neighbors weed infested field (soccer, what’s that?). Shirkey’s drug store, in the middle of Annandale, was the only air-conditioned building for 50 miles. We would ride our bikes past the broken, “Annandale, a town with a future” sign to the drug store so we could go in, order a cherry coke to cool off, and make the sweaty ride back home.

   
  Children born right after the War, called “baby Boomers” were just starting seventh grade. Their demand for services has haunted us all our lives. The nearby town of Springfield was involved in a massive building boom to satisfy the urgent need for after- war family housing. At one time they were building and completing one new house every day. The State of Virginia built a four lane divided highway from Washington DC south to route one, right through Springfield, and named it after somebody called “Shirley”. Now it is just called I-95. I drove my dad’s new Pontiac over 100 mph one night on that road when the highway was so new it was empty of cars.
   
 

One of my first jobs was clerking at the Springfield drugstore, where I met and made friends with Doug Foard, Emmit Shaw, and Lee Cary. We had great times together. On several occasions I was asked to provide posters and PR advice to girls who were running for student office positions. They never won because girls were reluctant to vote for girls; an odd trait that still persists in American politics.

   
 

In the 1960’s a group called the Chad Mitchell Trio sang a Tom Paxton song called, “What did you learn in school today?” The father would ask the question and the child would respond with an answer that always doubled around and provided you with a realistic and sarcastic kick in the pants. Some of his lyrics included,

   
  “I learned that Washington never told a lie. That soldiers seldom die. I learned that everybody’s free, that policemen are my friends, that justice never ends, our government must be strong because they are always right and never wrong. Our leaders are the finest men, because we elect them again and again. I learned that war is not so bad, I learned of the great ones we have had. We fought in Germany and in France, and someday I  might get my chance. That’s what I learned in school today…”
   
 

What I learned after school is that English does not always have to follow the rules. That verbs which state an absolute are dangerous to use because someone will tell you that very little in life can be said to be absolute.  Fifty years ago the atom was the smallest particle known. Being able to look inside and analyze your motives and emotions is a significant part of continuing to grow as a person. It is not easy and sometimes requires you to say you are truly “sorry”. Pondering, thinking before you speak, introspection, looking at the stars as well as the ants is important. What you do now may not bring a positive return for several years. Being kind is easier on your blood pressure. The process we call “science” has trod hard and heavy on other alternative possibilities. Justice, unfortunately, is sometimes truly blind. Love is top dog. The old proverbs are proverbs for a reason.

   
  There is justice in the world, but injustice is rampant. It occurs every second of every day worldwide and in many places it is truly terrible. The highest court in the land said that advertisers are expected to lie about their products, so they let them. For some, the more money you have the better your chances of cheating others to get even more money. There are places in the world where you can gamble that your choice of investment will provide you with great rewards at the expense of someone else. Wealthy people hire lawyers, who not only control the courts but also the writing of laws, and poor people with legitimate civil cases are left without representation.  National health care for everyone is considered by members of Congress, who have 100 percent federal health insurance, to be unnecessary.
   
 

I have learned to install and repair machines, build decks, grow flowers, cook breakfast, wash dishes, vacuum carpets, roof houses, dig ditches, change diapers, fire missiles, and be nice to people I do not like. I have learned to create art, write, and design logos, arrange, manage and conduct meetings, brief reporters and political appointees, sidestep tricky questions, and not answer the telephone. I have been lied to, mis-treated, betrayed, been on jury duty, and testified under oath. I learned to waltz and square dance, read warning labels, and question medical professionals.

   
  I have learned to debit my groceries directly from my bank account and satisfy my lust for things by using a plastic credit card. People can now eat at restaurants where the food is prepared “fast”, tastes good, but is not healthy. I can for a reasonable payment fly across the nation at 500 mph with 300 other people in five hours.  When I arrive I can rent a new car at any airport or city, get cash from a machine, rent and show a Hollywood movie in my living room or make a movie or take photos at home without “film”. I can use a small machine called a computer that will provide me with vast amounts of information that I can access instantly from any location, and if it fails to operate, talk to a person in Bombay, India for three hours in an attempt to get it working, at no direct cost to me, on a phone with no cord, that is smaller than my hand, from anywhere in my home or car.  I can watch movie cartoons that were created without paper or paint.  I can buy food “out of season” because it is shipped from the other side of the planet daily. I can cook on non-stick pans and ask my doctor to use a laser light to perform surgery.  None of this existed 50 years ago.
   
 

Annette and Paul Steucke, 1956

   
 

I have learned that black and white is frequently gray. Don’t shove your existence, beliefs, or your music boom box down another person’s throat. To create is to be one with God (sometimes called the Muse). To lie on my back on the grass and watch the clouds by day and the stars at night is to be alive. I have suffered pain and surgery, but not as bad as some. A good medical professional who stays in touch with who they are and cures your ailment and pain is a saint. I have learned to share my time, my love and my resources. I enjoy good food and fine wine. I have had my share of adult toys.

   
  Time is a word, a concept. It is sunrise and sunset that are important. We, as people try to plan for the future, remember the past and are excited about the present, but we live in the “now”.  Fast cars, roller coasters, vacations, sports, live theater, cooking, dinner with friends, caring for babies, creating art, and riding in a convertible with the top down are all moments of the present, the “now”. We love them because they remind us that we are in the present. It reminds us that we are alive. 
   
 

All forms are unstable, they change constantly, and that includes our bodies. Something we are acutely aware of when we look in the mirror and wonder who  is staring back.

   
 

Our physical bodies, contrary to what we think, are actually 99.99 percent empty space. A concept that is truly difficult to grasp. The space between atoms in our body is vast compared to their size, and there is as much space again between each atom. In many ways our bodies are a microcosmic version of outer space. Light traveling at a constant speed of 186,000 miles per second takes just over one second to travel between the earth and the moon. Light from the sun takes about eight minutes to reach earth. Light from a star called Proxima Centauri, the sun that is closest to our sun, travels for 4.5 years before it reaches earth. Light from the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest to our own, takes 2.4 million years to reach us. What is a lifetime is a matter of perspective; to the fruit fly that lives for 24 hours, that is a lifetime, as full as any other. Like the fruit fly we are each here for what we call time: “a lifetime”. Be it two hours, two years or two hundred years, it is a lifetime for each entity, no more, no less.

   
 

Human ingenuity, based on intuitive curiosity to build and improve, has created social and technological changes that have allowed us to change the way we live and work. This process has been building century by century, one creative idea built upon another. New ideas in science and engineering have provided us with wondrous material, scientific, and medical advancements. Things we not only thought impossible but things we never dreamed about are now a reality. Everyone knows the list by now: television, cell telephones, putting man on the moon, antibiotics, synthetic body parts, and the electric toothbrush. I am sure George Washington was impressed with the changes that occurred in his lifetime. I certainly am impressed with what I have seen in the past 50 years. It doesn’t seem possible that things will be invented and discoveries made that we haven’t dreamed about, but they will.

   
 

Social behavior, based on changing people rather than things, has been slow when compared to technological changes. Fortunately there has been, in some places, some improvement.  Not as much as most of us would like, but there has been some progress. We have a global attempt at regulation called the United Nations. Racial equality is slowly becoming accepted. Women in business have a far better chance of success than their parents did.

   
 

Thanks to technology and the media, we are able to obtain and share information worldwide almost instantly. However that kind of information has made it difficult to ignore the social problems of others throughout the world, “Do-gooders” are sometimes unintentional do-badders, and voter’s memories are so short that politicians will seldom approve long range investments that could cure a problem rather than patch it. Our ability to get along socially as a species is so poor that I despair about our survival. So far “the meek have not inherited the earth”.

   
  I have lost those I loved and regret not loving them more. I have studied religion in several ways, am a spiritual man, but not a man of dogma. Religion should stick to the teaching of religion. I have lost my temper and regret it. I have learned to realize and accept when I have wronged and to apologize for it.  I have worked hard and successfully to support my family, financially, emotionally, and materially.
   
 

Paul and Annette (Hagaman) Steucke

   
 

I have been fortunate in love. I courted and married Annette Jo Hagaman, the girl down the street, 47 years ago. While we raised four children she got a BSW, Magna cum Laude, a MA in Psychology and became an outstanding family and child therapist. She taught me about the wonderful world of women, as I had no sisters. She taught me about food, happiness, and life. She taught me to think and question myself, my motives. Most of all she taught me about love.

   
 

My experience at Fairfax and then Annandale High School was pleasant and rewarding. The teaching staff tried hard to get me to learn something and you, my classmates and friends, were great. It has been a wonderful ride.

Paul

 

   
   
 

Paul Steucke, author, graphic designer and fine artist for over 40 years has lived and painted in Anchorage, Alaska, Reston, Virginia, Olympia, Washington, and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

He has a fine arts degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University and received two competitive art fellowships from The Virginia Museum. His work has been exhibited in Richmond, Leesburg, and Reston Virginia; the U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC; Anchorage, Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska; Martinsburg, West Virginia; Honolulu and Kamuela, Hawaii; and Olympia and Ellensburg, Washington. 

Paul retired from the Federal Government after serving 30 years as a Public Information Officer/Manager.

Annette, in addition to being a family and child therapist, is also an artist.  

* “BURBIA BOY, An entertaining account of growing up in Northern Virginia”, is a 372 page memoir based on handwritten documents from the author’s grandfather, historical newspaper articles,  family interviews, and personal history. It is available from your local bookstore or from the publisher: BOOKLOCKER.COM for $17.95, plus shipping. (ISBN #0977910806)

 

   
   
   
   
 
Copyright 1980 - 2014 © Paul Steucke ~ All Rights Reserved