We were on a trip when the call came in telling us that one of my husband's uncles had died. Yesterday was the funeral, and as I sat in the chapel, then in the mausoleum, and on to the reception following the service, I observed his friends and remaining siblings, members of his generation, the generation some call "The Greatest Generation That Ever Lived," and it was a privilege.
That honor is a tough call. Were they greater than the generation of the Founding Fathers--those who risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to establish a new land based on the cause of liberty? Or does it take even greater courage to not only defend that cause for the sake of your own citizens, but to fight to broaden its reach to other oppressed people?
You make the call. For me, they're impassioned hearts cut from the same cloth.
We have a brief privilege remaining--the quickly-fleeting chance to observe and learn from some of these giants, and they are and were giants--of patriotism, of industry, of finance, of religion, of agriculture, education and beyond. Were they all moguls in their respective fields? Some were . . . most weren't. Most changed the world by small acts of simple, daily goodness. Here's what I've observed over time.
Most never speak of the great war, though many still suffer from injuries or memories of what they experienced. They tear at the sight of the flag, they still salute or cover their heart as it passes. They vote and serve at polling places. They spend much of their free time serving their communities, building relationships, and helping neighbors.
Most of these octegenarians had worked long and hard and enjoyed the privilege to retire at some point, with a pension and some Social Security, and why? Because they were people who went to work day after day at a modest job that offered a long term reward for that loyalty that generation had honed. They paid into a system for decades with their sweat and small deposits, and in the end, hard work, integrity and honesty paid off for most of them.
They achieved their dreams because their wants were modest. Most of these people lived in comfortable homes that were small by the current generation's standards. They hung their clothes out to dry, mowed their small lawns with push mowers, planted gardens, saved for a rainy day, invested in Vacation Clubs and Christmas Clubs to finance the big occasions of the year. They fully intended to see their homes paid off. They'd do without before allowing their credit to suffer due to non-payment. They met their obligations and rejoiced when a new appliance or luxury came into their lives.
But there were fewer new things to consume their attention. Needs and obligations came first. Wants were something to hope for. . . the stuff for which to save and dream while thumbing through a catalogue. They were willing to make do with less so their children could have something better.
They were the children of the depression. They believed in fixxing, mending, and scrubbing instead of tossing and replacing.
They filled the churches for decades, bringing along their children and grandchildren, showing as much pride when a tiny child first learned to fold his arms for prayer as they did when they hit their first home run.
They were planners and goal-setters who prepared the way for feet that would follow long after their toes were pointed to heaven.
So few of them remain. We're running out of time to glean their knowledge, and to say thanks.