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Posted: March 6, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Harwell: Things I know no longer matter

The older I get the more I feel that a good bit of information I’ve spent a lifetime accumulating may border on the insignificant. I hope I’m wrong, as it’s a terrible thing to contemplate having expended enormous effort and priceless, irreplaceable time in the pursuit of knowledge which doesn’t matter. But it’s important to me, especially in winter, to know that the hot water won’t reach the shower head until I’ve sung the horn line introduction to Sam and Dave’s 1967 "Soul Man."

Any old guy in possession of a new cell phone who has to retrieve vital information from a computer to store in the new phone’s memory surely identifies with me. My effort to "synch" a new phone last week had me texting my children for help, which later caused me to utter the same phrase my parents used when I was young — which in and of itself is also alarming — "Just wait until you’re my age."

Last week a line of thunderstorms swept quickly across our state, which they’ve done for several hundreds of thousands of years. I can’t make an absolute statement about it, but the earth has never failed to rotate toward the east; this land which comprises Georgia has been here for 4.6 billion years. So I’m fairly confident that weather patterns associated with 33 degrees of north latitude are pretty much the same today as they’ve always been.

But the Atlanta television news channels went berserk last Monday. Meteorologists and their bosses, the Chief Meteorologists, pulled out the gee-whiz 3-D computer graphics to show the line of showers from the top looking down, from inside looking out, even side scans displaying types of precipitation, and more.

From the alarm in their voices you’d have thought our destroyers sunk the Russian cargo ship carrying the nukes to Cuba and Castro had launched a pre-emptive strike at Atlanta.

"We stood eyeball-to-eyeball," I can hear President Kennedy’s Secretary of State Dean Rusk saying, "and the other guy blinked."

But wait!

It’s 2011, not 1961. The clouds rained water in Atlanta! No nuclear missiles fell from the sky!

But speaking of ’61, along about that springtime I was flying down a deserted street near my home on a brand new bicycle Santa Claus had brought me the preceding Christmas. Without feathering the old-fashioned pedal brake, I leaned into a left-hand turn onto my street. There was always a triangular patch of loose gravel in that intersection, but I estimated that I would miss it.

I was wrong. The tires hit the loose gravel and I wiped out big time. Skin’t up the paint job and bent the front chrome fender so it scraped against the tire. Oh, I also took all the skin off my left leg and arm. Mama swabbed the dreaded Mercurochrome all over my wounds. That reddish, mercury-bromide compound always hurt more than the hurt itself. It was later banned in America, not surprisingly.

Later in the 20th century, teaching my own children to ride bikes, I stressed repeatedly how to spot loose gravel in the road, how to recover from a disastrous slide and avoid a spill. The kids still laugh, disparagingly, recalling my fervent instructions; they also found humorous my admonitions to protect their eyes by turning away anytime a lawnmower operated with the exhaust port facing them.

I know many more valuable things, most of which will likely go to the grave with me unappreciated by others. There’s a vital portal located under a Camellia bush in our yard which plumbers might have to access should the master drain system clog in our house. I know where the water cutoff valves are located should a pipe break. And I know the truth of "gutters are for people with basements," learned in 1989 when I removed our gutters just before a downpour.

I eschew going to Kroger on "senior citizen Wednesdays" and avoid Highway 278 on Fridays. I never enter the QT station while heading north on Emory Street, and always exit Longhorn or Appleby’s the back way to avoid traffic. I cherish the new, flawlessly efficient roundabout at Turner Lake and Clark Street, and wonder where all the nay-sayers who adamantly opposed it are now?

So perhaps I really am a repository for insignificant information. But weather will continue to move through here from the northwest, although upon occasion clouds will move in from the east, announcing the presence of a low pressure system off the coast which most likely will send us some rain.

All of this and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, you know. But on approach, don’t forget to check for gravel before leaning into that turn in the drive-thru lane!

 

Nat Harwell is a Covington resident. His column apears Sundays.

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