Saturday, August 11, 2012

100 Years Ago

by Bill Holmes

This year, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of both my parents birth. Dad lived until 2006 and Mom lived until 2002. Full lives and mostly enjoyable at least until their very last few months. I think of each of them almost every day. Sometimes it's just a fleeting thought or memory. Sometimes it's a dream I remember all or part of when I wake up. Sometimes it's a long memory. Sometimes it's sad and sometimes it's happy. Sometimes I'm angry at them, either for something they did or didn't do while alive or because they died and left me. Sometimes I couldn't believe how stupid, naïve, or old fashion they were. Other times I couldn't believe how smart, insightful and up to date they were.

Often I have no idea how or why many of these memories pop into my mind. Other times I know exactly what triggered the memory. It can be a place, a song, a picture, a TV show, a food, a news story, a smell or any of a thousand other things. Sometime I catch myself using a phrase they used or making a gesture that they did. Like almost every child I would never do or say anything the way my parents did. Now, mostly it doesn't bother me and in fact I smile.

Life was different in 1912. My parents grew up in a world that was far more formal and polite than now but was certainly not politically correct. People got dressed up for social engagements and events. There were rules for courting. Pregnancies were either after marriage, forced a marriage or caused the women to be banished. Despite all those high moral standards, every religious, ethnic and racial group had a “nickname”, most of which are no longer acceptable. Mentally and physically challenged people were ignored, ridiculed or hidden. There were no Gays, just reprehensible sexual deviates. There were no African-Americans or Native Americans or Italian-Americans or Asian-Americans or Hispanics in their day. There were no hyphens in our ethnicity. Men were clearly in charge. Woman's suffrage wasn't the law of the land until 1920. Women's equality wasn't even an issue until the 1960's. My Mom had to quit work when she got married because married women weren't allowed to work at her company.

They also went through two World Wars and the Depression. Those events shaped their lives forever. Those were gut wrenching periods in our history. Over 100,000 thousand US troops died in WWI and over 400,000 died in WWII. More than that were wounded. With a drafted armed forces in a country with a smaller population, almost every family was touched by those wars. The US was not sure of victory in those wars. The Depression saw unemployment rates of 25% and lasted a decade. The poverty of the Depression was replaced by the rationing and sacrifices of WWII. Tough times.

There are many things to admire about the “good old days” but there are also many things we should be glad have changed. I'm not talking about the technology changes. Those are great and make life much easier. When I ride my bike I'm glad the streets are paved and not full of horse shit. Planes are faster than Conestoga wagons, computers are faster than pencil & paper. The changes I'm most thankful for are the social changes.

My parents were born before women were first class citizens or could vote. There were still more horses than cars. Blacks were openly oppressed and not just in the South. Even open-minded Northern women were taught to be afraid of Black men. It's hard to shed those lessons and norms of society.

I'm sure looking back on my life there have been many more technological changes than during my parents life but I don't know if there have been as many lifestyle and societal changes. I think it might be more traumatic to go from horses to cars and planes or pencils to computers or agri/city to suburban than what their children went through. We went from 1957 Chevy's to 2012 Volts, prop planes to jets, room size computers to handheld computers and near suburbs to farther out suburbs.

I've read, studied and thought about history since my youth. What I've most taken away from that is that we must look at the past and those that inhabited it in context. Times, customs, mores, circumstances and many other things were different. If you are fighting everyday just to survive your priorities don't leave much time for anything else. Hopefully we evolve for the better. It is unfair to judge our forefathers and ancestors by todays standards. Our founding fathers said “all men are created equal”. What they meant in context of the times was that all white male landowners were equal to the aristocracy. Slavery and denial of womens equality was acceptable. Pick any point in human history and you can find some behavior that will appall you. Many beliefs of 1750, 1850 or even 1950 now seem either stupid or barbaric. It is unrealistic and self righteous to believe that you would have been part of the 1% that was decades ahead of the norm in moving social change. What I'm sure of is that if you are lucky enough to live another 25 years you will look back at 2012 and wonder how could that have been or what were they, or you, thinking.

I don't know if I'll live 90+ years, nor am I sure I want to. If I do, I hope I adjust as well as my parents. One did better than the other but both did OK. I like change and new stuff, so maybe I have a chance. Life is never easy and getting old is not for sissies. It can be physically, mentally, financially, culturally and emotionally challenging.

One hundred years ago two special people were born. For selfish reasons I'm glad they were. If I'm lucky a couple of people will be glad I stopped by for a visit.


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