Monday, December 7, 2009

The Greatest Generation

(Just some random thoughts that I have gathered on this Pearl Harbor Day.)

My mother and father are/were part of the "Greatest Generation" - that group of people who lived through the Great Depression and WWII. I'm sure that moniker irks some who feel that this generation is not the greatest. But, I have to agree with those that say they truly were the epitome of America at its best. Think about it, after the 'high' of the roaring twenties, life came crashing down, literally, for millions. But, for the greater majority of Americans, they persevered, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and working two, three, and even four jobs to eke out a living; my mother told me how her mother, a divorce', would sell apples at night after the kids were put to bed. She also told me of the Christmas present she and her three sisters received one year: two sisters received a baby doll, and the other two received a baby doll carriage. That was it. And now the four girls were forced to play together if they wanted to enjoy their gifts.
But they were very happy with what they got.
My great great grandmother, in her 80's during the 1930's, would buy a Hershey candy bar from the store and slice off and eat slivers instead of biting chunks to make it last a week or more.
Just two tiny examples of making due because of the Depression. All members of the family 'suffered.' That was just how life was and they made the best of it.

Then came the War. At the time of this writing, the National Geographic Channel is showing a special on Pearl Harbor, as I am certain the History Channel is as well. The United States was thrown into Europe's war whether they wanted to be in it or not. And the boys volunteered to sign up. They lined the streets, in some cases, for blocks to join the war effort. The folks in the entertainment field also did their part, sometimes to perform and other times to fight.
All proudly served their country.
Those at home collected rubber, metals, had paper drives, all to support the U.S. and its allies fighting overseas.
Then, when the war ended four years later, the men came home, many finding a bride, marrying and raising a family. Dad was off to work, mom took care of the homestead. was good.
Until their children became teenagers.
Can you say hippie?
Yep - all of a sudden, the 'greatest generation' was considered 'the enemy.' The hippies hated their parents, or so it was said. Maybe that was a media thing. Whichever the case may be, because of the media hoopla, these kids revolted, demonstrated against the war in VietNam (and I believe rightfully so in this case, although they should not have treated the fighting men so badly upon their return), struck out against America - the America their parents were so proud to be a part of, the America they fought to preserve just twenty years earlier.
Once again, however, these who were considered the greatest generation, stood steadfast in their ways and survived their son's long hair and beards, communes, wild music, drugs, and general psychedelia.
(Before I am attacked by former hippies, let me just say that in my family - and I believe in most families - this anti-parent attitude did not prevail. It was more of a media thing, but it sold papers and magazines.
I will add, however, that my father was not fond of his sons having long hair. That was a constant battle.)
So now, here in the early part of the 21st century, this greatest generation is elderly, and many are suffering all that goes with old age. My father passed away at a young age - 55 - while my mother, a lung cancer survivor, just celebrated her 80th birthday last month. She stood and told us tonight exactly what she was doing when she heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor - she was playing jump rope with friends on the front sidewalk of their home in Detroit. She told us about collecting rubber and tin cans for the war effort. She told us about Victory Gardens. Nickel movies. The "Pepsi Cola hits the spot" radio commercial. The thrill of riding in a rumble seat. Meeting, dating, and marrying my father, then moving in with his immigrant Italian family, feeling like an outsider because she couldn't understand their broken English.
My mother has been through quite a bit in her 80 years. From radio days to plasma TV's. From the old black and white film cameras to digital technology. From hippie children to having children become parents and grandparents themselves. (I can never make the claim to have been a hippie...I missed that scene myself due to my age, but I did witness it from a younger brother's view).
Contrary to what media and modern pop culture historians may say, there was no hatred or demonstrations at our house growing up. Nor were there in many homes of friends. Yes, there was long hair, wild music, even beads and waterbeds. But, most always showed respect to our parents.
Respect that they deserved as the greatest generation. Because of what those of their era lived through, I do not believe any other generation can come close to that moniker.

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