The Greatest Generation…
A Gift that Keeps on Giving
My Greatest Generation parents put me on the sidelines of life as I was growing up. The mantra of my half Irish household was, “Kids are to be seen, not heard”… sometimes substituted for “God gave you one mouth and two ears so you could listen while you eat.” I still remember the pain of being virtually silenced, but, through the pain, there was the rich “apprenticeship” of watching the Greatest Generation story tellers and teachers work their riveting magic… in the small kitchens of our childhood homes during the winters, in the smaller yet porches of our youth during the warm, balmy Midwestern summers, and in the hot and cold Catholic Central classrooms of our high school prep days.
That Greatest Generation of my household (and, perhaps, yours) was scarred with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the poverty and the destitution of the 1929 stock market crash, followed by the decades-long, Great Depression of the 1930s… all of them trying to find a radio to listen to, so they could hear Franklin D. Roosevelt’s soothing “fire side chats” of “hope” (C.C’s legendary priest, Father Richard Elmer’s, favorite word). When my own, dear Father died, I found amongst his “minimalist” belongings, Will and Ariel Durants Lessons of History and a dog-eared newspaper article by Jim Bishop titled, The Grim Realities of Depression Days…
Families slept on their furniture on sidewalks.
Prices and salaries went down, down, down.
Poor families did well to get hot oatmeal for dinner.
Twenty thousand persons— mostly heads of families—
held onto heartbreak until 1931,
and then committed suicide.
We World War II babies, grew up in much better circumstance than our Greatest Generation parents. True, we had little or no spending money, and some very low paying jobs of minimal importance at less than minimal wages. But we never missed a meal. We were minimalists with a very modest roof over our heads and some “threads” to cover our skinny bodies (threads that made up in “sturdiness”… what they lacked in “fashionableness”). We children of Greatest Generation parents, although minimalists, had it so much better than our parents who knew the pain of hunger, the hopelessness of homelessness, the bread lines and the soup kitchens. Most, including my own 8th grade educated Irish Mother Jean and my 9th grade educated Father Fred (one year at Catholic Central on Harper and Woodward) were loathed to complain of their generations’ troubles, but, being silenced to a observer, I could still pick up on the “troubles of poverty”… even in the robust humor and debate of their colorful lives.
Thank heaven, our Greatest Generation Parents (and the Nuns and Priests they commissioned to watch over us during the school day) had a plan. The plan… prep school education for their sons, and a College education to follow. Our Greatest Generation parents, the Priests and the Nuns all struggled and sacrificed their lives to educate us World War II Babies… so that our world would be more robust emotionally and more secure financially than their own “Oh so challenging” world of scarcity and want. And, as our Greatest Generation parents (and Nuns and Priests) insisted… we war babies had to “shut up,” work hard, get an education, work hard some more, and leave the entertainment and story telling to them. And, so we did.
I say all credit and praise to our Greatest Generation Parents and to the Greatest Generation Nuns and Priests who made our journey possible. We, the sons of Greatest Generation… were set up for success from the get-go. That’s what compelled me to write my first book (Children of the Greatest Generation)… as I realized that our World War II babies’ generation had a success built on two parts hard work by us and eight parts… the fortuitous “opportunity” of being born in the right generation, to the right parents, in the right country, with the right skin color and right gender.
Hard work, without the “opportunity” our generation inherited, usually does not generate success because, well because, without the synergy of “opportunity”… the wheels of effort simply spin without traction, and we go nowhere. On the other hand, the luck of the draw and the accident of our birthright, combined with hard work… begat the very success that our Greatest Generation parents and C.C. priests planned for us all along— a success that, to this very day… keeps on giving, keeps us in fine homes, keeps on providing reliable transportation, and keeps us in fashionable clothes with a retirement income well beyond the meager Social Security benefits our Greatest Generation parents subsisted on. I think it no exaggeration to say that our success, emotionally and financially… is way beyond what we or our Greatest Generation parents ever foresaw.
All praise and hail to our Greatest Generation parents and the Greatest Generation Nuns and Priests from such foundational places as Catholic Central, St. Mary’s of Redford, St. Girard, St. Christopher, St. Monica, Immaculate Heart of Mary, St Alphonsus, Gate of Heaven, Christ the King, St. Michael, Presentation, Epiphany, St Gregory, Our Lady of Loretto, St. Gemma, St. John the Evangelist (and all the others)… all who helped our Greatest Generation parents shepherd us through life, as they attempted to impart the message of Jesus and the motto of Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge.
Our success, therefore, must be accompanied by an appreciation and humility that understands and endorses the 9th Beatitude, “Blessed are the successful who understand that 80% of their success is based upon the fortuitousness of being born into the right family at the right time of history.”
CONGRATULATIONS !!! CLASS OF 1961 FOR SO MANY LIVES, SO WELL LIVED. AND, THANK YOU GREATEST GENERATION FOR YOUR DIRECTION AND ENCOURAGEMENT.