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Posted: April 17, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Revere, Doolittle, Yamamoto and me

Upon occasion, when meeting someone for the first time, I've fielded queries about my last name. A knowledgeable baseball fan, for instance, might ask if I were related to the late, great Ernie Harwell of Detroit Tigers broadcasting fame.

A Civil War buff might inquire if I were connected to the late, great Richard Barksdale Harwell, the librarian who built the repositories at Emory University and Georgia Southern and an authoritative author of more than 100 books on the War Between The States.

My standard acknowledgment of kinship to those great men is usually phrased in a self-deprecating line that I've nearly been somebody on several levels.

If I'd turned left instead of right, perhaps you'd know me from my frequent appearances on late-night television.

My life is what it is.

I'm just thankful that the most wonderful woman in the world married me some 37 years, four months and two days ago. And that, further, she took her vows seriously and remained with me for better or worse, for richer or poorer.

Mostly worse and poorer!

Paul Simon, a great 20th and 21st century philosopher, is better known as half of the pop music duo, Simon and Garfunkel. In one of his tunes, "Slip Slidin' Away," Simon wrote: "God only knows; God has a plan; the information's unavailable to the mortal man."

How true, how true.

Another great singer/songwriter, Billy Joel, burst into public awareness with a gigantic hit, "Piano Man."
The tune tells the story of regulars at a bar, all of whom believe they could achieve success on a grand scale utilizing the vehicles of movie stardom, or authoring a novel, if they could just get out of that place.

"The piano sounds like a carnival," Joel laments, "and the microphone smells like a beer. And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say ‘Man, what are you doin' here?'"

We've all seen people rise to positions of power, on even a national scale, and wondered how in the world others could not see through their smoke and mirrors.

And we think of the fork in the road so beautifully described by Robert Frost in his wondrous poem, "The Road Not Taken," and wonder if - in our youthful desire to stay true to ideals emblazoned in our youthful hearts - we made the wrong choice.

Oh, well.

The sun will rise tomorrow on the first day of the rest of our lives.

We can stay the course, or strike out boldly on a new adventure. Jettison the past and embrace the brave new world of technology and unthinking acceptance of anything and everything the great, omniscient leaders in Washington, D. C., tell us is best for us.

My two late uncles went out of their way to elevate my social education.

I've hobnobbed with great people from Old Atlanta society, and even today clean up nicely in a tuxedo.
My Civil War uncle was also a naval hero in World War II, commanding a minesweeper at Guadalcanal.

He taught me the value of humility, explaining that his view of command was to make decisions which were right for his ship and crew, without regard as to how it might affect him personally.

My baseball uncle showed me greatness on so many levels, and I learned from countless encounters with professional ballplayers that the truly greatest among us are actually the most humble.

My other brushes with notoriety run to a purely personal enjoyment of notable events transpiring on my birthday.
Tomorrow - and, yes, I know that tomorrow is not guaranteed me - I'll hit a milestone which I never really thought possible, one which even now seems totally surreal.

For tomorrow, April 18, I'll turn 60.

Sixteen I could understand. But, sixty?

As is my wont, at some point in the day I'll toast Paul Revere, who on April 18, 1775, made a horseback ride calling America's Minutemen to arms against the British.

And I'll reflect - with solemnity due to recent tragedies in Japan - on Doolittle's Raiders, who on April 18, 1942 struck Tokyo and gave America hope in the early, dark days of World War II.

And I'll recall that on April 18, 1943, American flyers shot down Japan's Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto over Bouganville.

In a way, my life has been one of privilege, as the family name is something I treasure.

The things I've witnessed, the people I've known, kids I taught and coached over the decades, all blur into a fabric that sustains me even as the next 60 years begin.

I was almost somebody, the first time around. Who knows?

Maybe I will be, yet!

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

 

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