I wrote this after a phone call from my Dad. He had just visited his old football buddy (he and his friend are the last remaining alive on their team). His friend and wife are now in separate elder care facilities and not long ago he visited them in their home……
A phone call from my Dad last night gave me pause to consider what will happen when the last of what they called “The Greatest Generation” takes its final leave of this place we call home. I wonder at the changing face and shape of a town, a smallish town like Lodi. What does the gradual taking leave of an entire generation look like? I am afraid that unless we keep their stories alive, they will slip away graciously the way they lived, with seemingly little impact.
Can a town remember? A town whose streets hold the footprints and buildings that years of blood, sweat and tears have produced? I believe it can, for the conversations that took place in grocery stores and downtown corners, over meals and glasses of wine will still be here in the words and voices of those of us who’ve come after. But only if we don’t forget. For the best way to show our gratitude is by keeping those memories alive. It’s the least we can do for them.
For these were a people who stepped up for the nation and the world at a great time of need with little thought of what it might cost them personally. Young men climbed into rickety planes were given no guarantee they would even make it across the ocean. Young women stepped into roles and jobs they had never had before and proved themselves beyond capable. My own Mom had shoes thrown at her as a teen when the shoe store she worked at ran out of shoes by the end of the day.
What will it be like to look around someday and hear only echoes of these voices without their graceful presence? These are the questions I ask myself. And I’ve asked myself something else too. Could I live as selflessly as this courageous generation has done? Could I make the necessary sacrifices they did by going without for years, so that I could have more? What lessons might I have learned if I had saved more and spent less?
Things are changing, that’s for sure. The service station my Dad frequented for years recently stopped accepting his checks for gas. He went elsewhere. Trust and integrity are precious commodities. Back in their day, a word was as good as a contract, and a handshake was enough to seal a deal.
There is something unique about this particular generation in that they not only make me want to do better, they make me want to be better. A better customer, a better neighbor. I think of my folks who at one time knew just about every business owner downtown. This past year they had their 63rd Class Reunion. Turnout was incredible, though no one is quite as mobile as they were in years past, quite an impressive number turned out. That says a lot.
It tells me the best way I can honor them is by letting their values and their legacy live on in me. To keep on trusting even as the world seems to turn more jaded and cynical. To know the name of my neighbor and wave, even if they don’t wave back. To never give up on humanity and believe that there are still many good people out there. Because there are.
Today, if you are blessed enough to know or love someone who was alive back then, call them up and ask them to tell you a story of what it was like in those days. Make the time…….You are not too busy, I promise.
And most of all, think of each day as a gift from God. None of us has any guarantees of how much time we have left, but waking up with gratitude is the only way to start.