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Crazy eights
January 1, 2008

It's crazy, and I do it every year. I wouldn't be surprised if you do as well. All last week I told myself—it's going to be 2008, it's going to be 2008. Then I pick up a pen and write the wrong year.

One day last week I really messed up. I didn't miss by a year—I was off a decade. I wrote 1998 big as anything. What was I thinking about?

I don't know, but it did set me to thinking about years ending in eight. (Did you know these years are said to be lucky?) So, instead of writing thank-you notes and cleaning up from holiday happiness, I've done a little research. Join me on a century-long tour of some of the fun, new, fantastic and crazy things that have happened during the crazy eights.

1908 began with a real first—something you may have watched on New Year's Eve, 2007. It was the first time the ball dropped on Times Square in New York City as the New Year rolled in.

Across the Atlantic on Trafalgar Square in London, one Harry Bensley began a trip he planned to take around the world to fulfill a bet. He wore an iron mask and pushed a perambulator. His beginning is documented. The end of his journey is lost in history and legend. A hundred years later, it's still a great story. One of his descendants is attempting to document it. You can check it out on the Internet.

This was a year of good eating. Mrs. Curtis' Cookbook hit the presses. People still circulate her recipes. The book contained household hints as well—including full instructions on how to build a privy. I'll let you find that on the Internet as well. But this recipe seems appropriate today as we look at a century of dates.

Mrs. Curtis' Date Pie
1 pound dried, pitted dates
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups whole or 2% milk
1 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
3 tablespoons flour
1 unbaked pie shell

Soak the dates in warm water, coffee or red wine overnight. Stew gently for about 10 minutes. Add the milk, cinnamon and sugar. Pour into the pie shell, and sprinkle the flour on top. Bake at 360 degrees for 45 minutes.

1918 was grim. The world was at war and influenza swept the globe. Good or bad, news began to travel faster as the Post Office Department (now the USPS) initiated the first regular airmail service in the world between New York City, Washington and Philadelphia.

1928 was a landmark year for enthusiastic eaters. Mrs. Henrietta Dull went to work for the Atlanta Journal where she spread the word or words on cooking for many years. Her book, Southern Cooking, dedicated to "My Friends, the Women of Atlanta, of Georgia, and of the South," is still in print.

1938 found most Americans gathered around the radio to get the news and to be entertained. Music lovers tapped their toes to the sweet music of bandleader Ozzie Nelson and the sweet voice of Harriet Hilliard (later Mrs. Nelson) singing "At Long Last Love." Youngsters, no surprise, preferred to get their entertainment from the comic books. A very good year it was as they welcomed Superman to the pages of "Action Comics."

In 1948 lots of folks smiled and then smiled some more—the Polaroid Land Camera hit the market. No more waiting for the pictures to come back to the drugstore. (If you don't know what this means, ask your grandma.) Playing cards and dominos found themselves left in the closet while families gathered 'round the table playing the new game sensation, Scrabble. Can you imagine life without Scrabble?

Youngsters ruled the roost in 1958. Fourteen-year-old Bobby Fisher was the U.S. Chess Champion; while Ozzie and Harriet's boy, Ricky, led the hit parade with "Poor Little Fool." Every girl's heart throb, Elvis Presley, took the oath and joined the army. Bobby Darin warbled several hits including "Splish, Splash." The little ones were glued to the radio and television fascinated by the new group "Alvin and Chipmunks."

Kids, large and small, did more than rock 'n' roll and listen to the radio. All across the country, they hit the books with the renewed emphasis on math and science as we entered the space age. Explorer I, our first satellite, entered orbit and the National Aeronautics and Space Act entered the law. Quickly, NASA became part of our vocabulary.

Studying all that science and math is hungry work. Remains of what was reputed to be Elvis' "very favorite" food surely stained lots of textbooks.

Elvis's Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
2 slices white bread
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 small ripe banana, mashed
Bacon grease

Spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread and the banana on the other. Put the two slices together, filling side in. Melt the grease in a frying pan and fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve with milk, either sweet or butter.

Health conscious moms may have substituted butter or margarine. (No wonder Elvis put on a little weight in later years. It's rumored that he ate at least a dozen of these a day!)

1968 got off to a rough start for Evel Knievel. He planned to do a motorcycle jump in Las Vegas over the fountain at Caesar's Palace—splish, splash, it was Evel taking that bath.

Folks took a bath at the post office as well. The cost of a first class stamp rocketed from 5 cents all the way up to 6 cents. How did we afford it?

Maybe we stayed home for dinner, watching "College Bowl" or the news covering the soft landing of the Surveyor space probe on the Moon while we filled up on Mom's good cooking. The evidence is in that we did. The No. 1 best-seller in nonfiction books was the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook.

In 1978 most of the news was about energy and gasoline and America's response to the energy crisis. The big surge in sales of cars imported from Japan grabbed the headlines. Those who saved the precious fuel by staying home and watching television didn't mind a bit—Dallas" premiered on CBS television, riveting folks for years. Those who preferred the radio or their record player filled the air with Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand harmonizing to "You Don't Bring Me Flowers."

For those on the road guzzling gas, an innovation provided distraction—still does. The very first cellular phone showed up glued to a driver's ear.

We quit saying "record sales" in 1988. That's the first year that Americans bought more CDs than vinyl records. Certainly, Bobby McFerrin had us all singing and whistling, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," no matter how we bought our music.

News continued to spread ever more quickly. The first trans-Atlantic fiber optic cable could carry 40,000 calls at the same time.

In 1998 we were looking up to the sky and down under the sea. The movie, "Titanic," cleaned up at the box office and at the Academy Awards where it claimed 11 Oscars.

Space was filling up. Russian cosmonauts set the record for a space walk of over three hours. In the United States, astronauts made the news as well. NASA named the first American woman commander to a space mission. The big news was about an older astronaut—one of the original Mercury team and the first American to orbit the Earth, Sen. John Glenn went into space again as a payload specialist on STS-95 Discovery, becoming at 77 the oldest human in space. Talk about a forward-looking fellow!

Interesting that Astronaut/Senator Glenn spent more than 218 hours in space. Almost 214 were on his last mission—the remaining four, long ago in 1962.

There'll be 8,784 hours in 2008. Remember, it's leap year. May every one of them be happy, fun and filled with new beginnings for you.

We started with a funny, silly story about a man about to walk around the world.Let's end with a funny, silly recipe that honors a great man who sailed into space.

Astronaut pudding
Instant pudding mix (any flavor, most kids like chocolate)
Milk

Put one tablespoon pudding mix into a sealable sandwich bag. Add ¼ cup milk. Seal. Squish the milk and pudding together until they are completely mixed. Stick a hole in one corner of the bag and suck out the pudding. Throw the bag away.

John Glenn has two grandchildren; I think he'd enjoy this. Maybe he has.


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network