I'm always sad, and a little teary, this week of the year, remembering of course that we lost you a dozen Septembers ago. Sometimes it seems like yesterday, sometimes as if it were a world and a time apart. Everything seems so different now, what with your absence, a void that never seems to close, and with all that has happened in these 12 years.
Every year I wonder how I'd explain the world you left behind and the way we live today, when we speak of cars without drivers and take pictures with our phones. So this year I'm going to try. How I wish I could have some assurance you might read it.
Since you've been gone, we've had a black president and same-sex marriages, both unimaginable when last we spoke. Your grandchildren -- all eight of them, each remarkable -- hardly use cash and almost never watch television shows on a television. You have three great-grandchildren, rugged and rambunctious, whom you've never met. They may never need a postage stamp to pay a bill. That stamp, by the way, costs 49 cents, a far cry from the two cents your father spent for the stamp to pay the hospital bill when you were born, back there in 1925.
When you took your last breath in September 2004, we had troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and our nation was seized by the fear of terrorism. Those faraway countries still are in upheaval and fear persists in our streets, schools, malls and hearts. I went to the ballgame last night and had to pass through a metal detector. There was no metal detector that night in 1962 when you took me to my first game, though I do remember hearing the rumble of the subway near Boston's Kenmore Square and worrying that the noise was a Russian bomber, probably targeting Fenway Park.
I was looking through a bunch of your letters the other day and laughed when I re-read one you wrote me in college, complaining that the Salem Evening News, where I worked as a teenager, raised its price from a dime to 12 cents. You said it wasn't worth it, though you'd probably still buy it for the obits. The newspaper I edit today costs $2.
I've often thought that I got my love of newspapers from you, a faithful subscriber to three, and I would dread having to explain to you the peril our business faces today, when hardly anyone under 40 reads a paper and when everyone around me seems to have forgotten the role a free press plays in a free society -- something you believed in even when it cost your beloved Richard Nixon, whom you voted for five times in national elections, his presidency.
Today Mr. Nixon doesn't look so bad, having enjoyed a small burst of revisionism, though many my age will never forgive him. Yet I concede that the presidents who followed seem so much smaller now.
You'll be happy to know that two heroes we shared -- George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, born one and two years before you -- still are with us, at ages 92 and 93, respectively. They seem to grow in stature as they grow older.
Perhaps that is because ours is an age that holds compromise in contempt. Even though this year we hear a lot of talk about the "art of the deal," which Messrs. Bush and Dole turned into a true art form, it is derided and devalued in politics, if not in commerce.
As for one of my other heroes, you will remember how, nearly a decade after your brother died in a PT boat during World War II, the young Jack Kennedy traveled to Salem in his 1952 Senate campaign, providing a chill and a thrill to your mother, who spent the rest of her life in grief at the loss of her son. John F. Kennedy still has wisdom to shed on our times.
Last week I read "Profiles in Courage" for the third time. My copy is so tattered that clumps of time-speckled pages fall from its binding, but I was struck by Sen. Kennedy's observation about the stories he told between the soft covers of that 35-cent Pocket Book. "Indeed," he wrote, "there would be no such stories had this nation not maintained its heritage of free speech and dissent, had it not fostered honest conflicts of opinion, had it not encouraged tolerance for unpopular views."
How welcome those words would be today -- which brings me to the presidential election that's underway. You will recognize both of the principals, but you may search in vain for their principles.
One is Donald Trump -- the real estate and casino guy. He's no different from the Donald Trump you recall. And he is running against Hillary Clinton. She's Bill Clinton's wife, of course, and she has since been a senator and secretary of state. He remains slightly vulgar, she slightly slippery. The result is that this may be the most unpalatable presidential election in history.
We both remember how my generation -- the baby boomers -- demeaned yours, saying you made a hash of things, worshiped conformity and consumerism, forced us to live with the nightmare of the mushroom cloud. The world you left us looks like heaven compared to the one we made, with even more conformity (some people call it political correctness) and even more consumerism, plus global climate change and seething anger in places, such as Iraq, that we tried to heal the way you tried to heal Korea and Vietnam.
Many things are better, far better. There are new opportunities to excel for your daughters-in-law, your daughter, your granddaughters and that new great-granddaughter. And crime is down, way down.
But we have lost much: a sense of national purpose, an abiding civility.
I used to scoff when you preached "moderation in all things"; I thought it was babble suitable for "Babbitt." I was wrong about that, as I was about so many things, for now I miss the moderation you personified, and the sense of purpose, and above all the civility. Mostly I miss you, and the world you tried to make better. We all do.
(David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1890). Follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG.)
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