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Bring back the Besse Coopers
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In recent days, the world’s oldest person, Besse Cooper of Monroe, died at the age of 116.

I thought about what had transpired in her lifetime.

She was born before the Wright Brothers made their maiden flight and before Henry Ford made his first Model T.

She was a young adult before the first radio station debuted and was a middle-aged woman before TV came along.

Think about it this way, she entered the world in the horse-and-buggy era and was driven to her final rest in a car that requires a computer to operate.

But then I thought about my own life.

In my 50-plus years on the planet, I was born in an era when most TV programs were black and white. Today, they are in high-definition color on a flat screen.

I remember the days when we were excited about getting electric typewriters in the newsroom. I shutter to think how long it would take me to write this column on such a primitive device.

I have an old brass cash register that is more than 100 years old. It has a little gizmo that counts how many times the drawer is opened. It adds up the sales of each item of less than one dollar at time.

I taught myself how to make change playing with that old thing.

Sadly, the ability to make basic change computations in one’s head is not being taught anymore. Everyone relies on a computerized cash register that calculates change on its own. The ability to do simple math without a calculator is going the way of the nickel Coke.

I learned how to write in cursive or, as we called it, "real" writing. I’m afraid that’s also on the nearly extinct list (which certainly isn’t written in cursive).

I have used my cursive writing for handwritten notes, which are also an endangered species. We used to send thank-you notes and nice messages through the postal service. We are content to send someone an email, which lacks a certain amount of emotion.

I know how to whistle. I remember a man who used to walk by our house from the bus stop. He was always whistling a tune. He seemed like a happy guy with a happy song to whistle. Does anyone still whistle today?

I still carry a clean handkerchief on many days. My mother thought that a clean handkerchief and clean underwear were essential elements of every day. I’m still good on the latter of those.

I may not have seen as much change in life as Besse Cooper, but my point is that there are some things that have come and gone in my lifetime that we might have been better off to have kept.

I heard a fellow say that one of the things that led to our downfall was the backyard deck. His contention is that we used to sit on the front porch and speak to each other as good neighbors. I think there is some validity to that point of view.

Folks were neighborly in Besse Cooper’s day, and they were still mighty nice when I came along.

Good manners, human kindness and compassion seemed to have faded a lot in the past half-century. I hope someone figures out a way to bring them back.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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