Back when I was coming along - which could mean any time between my birth, in 1952, or my graduation from college, in 1975, give or take a semester or two - there was a lot of talk about the so-called "generation gap."
Children were not supposed to be able to understand their parents and vice versa. Honesty compels me to admit that I never put much stock in that whole generation gap malarkey. My parents, Homer and Tommie Huckaby, never had any trouble making themselves understood - by me or anyone of any age, and I am fairly certain that they understood me, too.
We don't hear much talk about the generation gap anymore and in the age of Facebook and iPhone and text-messaging and electronically downloaded music, it is the older folks who are struggling to keep up and the younger folks who seem to be leading the way most of the time.
I said, most of the time. There are still a few areas in which we old folks have an edge. Now I told you all of that to tell you this.
I have said many times before that I have the best job in the world. I get to spend all day, every day, with some of the brightest young people around, talking about the history of our nation and other topics of great interest. But some days I am amazed at how out of touch my students and I sometimes are culturally.
Sometimes, for instance, my very language mystifies my students. When I threatened to cloud up and rain all over a young malefactor one day, for instance, he thought it was the funniest thing he had ever heard, which was not at all the effect I was seeking. In fact, I had to threaten to jerk a knot in his tail to get him to stop laughing at me.
The entire incident reminded me of the time my own eighth-grade English teacher, Mr. J.T. McKay, threatened to beat me like a rented mule because I plagiarized Furman Bisher in an essay. His idle threat didn't do much good. I still plagiarize Bisher from time to time.
There have been other times when my gee and their haw didn't quite match up. One day, for example, I discovered, quite by accident, that not a single one of my pupils knew that stepping on a crack would create severe orthopedic problems for their maternal parents' lumbar regions. No wonder I wasn't the least bit surprised to see one of them open an umbrella in the house and another failing to cross himself when a black cat walked directly across his path en route to lunch one day.
But earlier this week something happened that took the proverbial cake. During our class discussion I made a passing reference to iconic comedian and actor Bill Cosby. I was met, for the most part, with blank stares. If I had mentioned Bob Hope, who was of my parents' generation more than mine, I could have understood the lack of recognition. This was Bill Cosby, though. Fat Albert. Old Weird Harold. Theo and Rudy Huxtable's daddy. Surely they knew Bill Cosby.
Now, in most instances, I would have passed right over the apparent lack of recognition on my students' faces, but I was somewhat intrigued - these are, after all, very astute young people - and I was determined to make them admit that their generation is not completely out of touch with mine.
I tried a couple of his bits - ones that had been burned into memory by thousands of hours of listening to eight-track tapes.
"Come on out, Fat Albert!" "I love to play buck-buck." "Morphine!" And my personal favorite, "Noah, How long can you tread water?"
"Surely," I argued, "y'all have seen 'The Cosby Show' or watched the Cosby Kids cartoons on Saturday morning." (I knew better than to mention "I Spy.")
Finally, a spark of recognition in one young lady's eye. "Is he the Jello Pudding Pops guy?"
And I had to suppose that he was.
Well, the Niagara Movement and the Booker T. Washington-W.E.B. Dubois debate could wait. I had to not only educate these bright young minds, but also find out what other gaps existed in their cultural literacy.
My Cosby eight tracks are long gone, but I was able to find several clips of his monologues on the Internet. I was delighted to discover that Cosby's classic humor transcends the so-called generation gap. My students thought he was funny, too, in other words - and a couple of them even obtained DVDs of the television series, and shared them with the class - for extra credit of course.
So mission accomplished. My students now appreciate the comic genius of Bill Cosby. Next week I think we'll study Jerry Clower.
"Knock 'em out, John!" "Well shoot up here amongst us. One of us has got to have some relief!"
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.