Dispatches from the Financial Crisis Regarding Elders
Shocking Reasons For a Face Lift

The Oldest Old Project: Saul Friedman

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

For the Oldest, Old Project, I asked bloggers and readers who are at least 80 years old to tell us “young ‘uns” how they and their lives have changed in the 20-plus years since they were 60. It has been a popular undertaking and today, Saul Friedman, who has been writing the weekly Gray Matters column for Newsday for more than a decade joins this group with an important admonition, at the bottom, for all elders. Others who are at least 80 are encouraged to send their stories.

I was still immortal at 60, working up to 24 hours a day, impervious to pain or weariness, my immune system tossing off illness, my colleagues admiring of my work, my speed on the laptops we carried and my stamina. Also I had reached the top of my craft, journalism, covering, witnessing and writing about the great issues of our time.

On May 31, 1988, I was among the knot of reporters who stood in Red Square with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and I asked the president whatever happened to the “evil empire?” He replied, in effect, that that era was over. Funny the things that you remember. I remember calling home and learning from my wife, who noticed such things, that the full moon that night would be the second of the month, a “blue moon,” which gave me a perfect lead for what the old cold warrior said and did that day.

The following year, George H.W. Bush, whom I had known since I covered politics and he was the Republican county chairman in Houston, became president. And because I didn’t want to cover a president I had known as a friend, I headed for the job I really wanted, covering foreign affairs and the adventures of James Baker, who I also knew in Houston. And that’s what I was doing at 60, covering Baker and the cataclysmic events on his watch.

In one of Baker’s early meetings with his Soviet counterpart, Foreign Minister Edward Sheverdnadze, the U.S. and we learned that the Soviets would no longer force the eastern nations to remain in the Warsaw Pact, which mean they were free to leave the Soviet orbit. Baker convinced a skeptical Bush that Gorbachev was a reformer. A little over a year later, in November of that momentous 1989, the Berlin War came down and the Cold War came to an end.

I had been there in 1987, when Reagan, at the Brandenburg Gate implored Gorbachev to tear the wall down. I have an idea Reagan knew that was coming. Anyway, the disarmament talks that had begun with Reagan (when we got briefed by a bright and articulate young officer named Colin Powell) and became the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) agreements, which seems quaint now. The elder Bush, a signer, not a destroyer, concluded the treaties.

Then came Saddam Hussein’s surprise invasion of Kuwait and the run up to war as Baker and his press entourage flitted around the world, putting together an unprecedented coalition, including Arab states, that was ready to support the U.S. if it went to war with Iraq. I was there that crazy night in Geneva when a last-minute effort to get Iraq to withdraw failed. No one in my office believed me when I told them there would be a war.

During and after the run-up to war (which other nations paid for), Baker promised the U.S. allies (and Bush agreed) that American forces would not push into Baghdad. He told traveling reporters that the U.S. would become an occupying force in a dangerous environment. Besides, he had pledged to the Arab nations he would pressure Israel to come to a peace conference, which organized in Madrid.

It was to be his last diplomatic triumph, for his old Houston friendship with Bush forced him to quit the State Department to run, without enthusiasm, the elder Bush’s unsuccessful re-election campaign.

And a few years later, when Baker was gone, the Soviet Union was gone, and world affairs were no longer as newsy, I had to find other things to do. I was no longer immortal and that came to me, after chest pains from exhaustion and a terrible stomach upset on the way home from Syria.

That’s when I founded my column, “Gray Matters,” (my wife helped name it), as a survival guide for people growing older in a time when their numbers are fast growing, but the hostility of government towards older Americans is also growing.

I discovered quickly that the business of growing older is complex, what with Medicare, Medicaid, long term care, Social Security and scores of retirement and elder law issues. But, like Time Goes By, no subject is ignored.

It was necessary I write this column, for I am a reporter and that’s what I do. And I’ve kept at it for my own survival through a stroke and cancer, which I told my readers about.

Indeed I’ve told my readers, unless you were a shoe salesman hating what you did, keep doing it. All of us can use your experience. There are too many young people on the news who were born the day before yesterday and could not possible know what you and I know. I remember what it was like for my mother and mother-in-law when they got sick before Medicare. Do the young know there were poorhouses before Social Security?

Anyway, after I wrote my first column about a woman who was forced to put her husband in a nursing home and wondered how she could afford to live, I was thunderstruck. I explained her rights under Medicaid. And I got dozens of letters from people asking the same question. It was more mail, by far, than for any of my cosmic stories on war and peace.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Hillin gives us a personal and details story of The Great Depression.]


Comments

You are still at the top of your craft. If only I could write as well as you.

This was a wonderful peek behind-the-scenes of a historic time. Thank you.

Thanks, Ronni and Saul, for a great post this morning.

Saul, what an adventurous life you have led! You've surely followed that old fortune cookie prediction:

"May you live in interesting times"

And so you have...and do.

It is wonderful to read this glimpse of the great events of the late 80s and early 90s. As a deeply partisan person, even in those less rancorous days, I was always suspicious of George H W Bush -- but I have several friends who, like you, respect him very much.

One of the things I try to do in my blogging is put out some historical tidbits from my own experience so the stuff of our times is not so completely erased as it sometimes seems it is by contemporaneity.

Thanks.

Saul, thank you for this post. Ronni, thanks for getting Saul to blog here. We may all be getting older but it is clear to me, that none of us is retiring in any sense of that word. I love this blog...love it, love it, love it. It breathes life into the soul.

Thanks for the post Saul; I felt I got to know you today.

Looking forward to more from the author of "Gray Matters"

Rich

Thanks for the behind-the-scenes peek during an historical era.

My blog started several years ago when I decided to relive the 1960s - a most productive decade for me.

I was a news photographer then and have kept my hand in photography ever since.

I have chronicled its passage from a black and white darkroom in my home during high school up to today when I carry a small digital camera.

A recent trip to London and The Netherlands allowed me to bring back 1200 images. Yikes.

In the 60s, I started with a roll of film that gave you 12 shots!

Keep writing and sharing. Memories are like photos..pass them around.

This is typepad support/engineering testing the commenting problem on this post.

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