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Boomer Grandpa: The ‘Greatest Generation’ is slipping away

January 10, 2019

Life changes. For some of us, as we grow older we begin to feel comfortable with our world becoming smaller. On New Year’s Eve my wife and I were content to sit in our recliners at home. It’s been a number of years since we have attended end-of-the-year parties.

We each had a cat curled up on our lap, a glass of Moscato D’Asti and a plate of cheese and crackers. We watched a couple of different New Year’s Eve celebration television shows and felt sorry for the hosts and musical acts as they struggled to perform in pouring rain in New York City.

Time in a recliner is a little different nowadays. As I sat in my chair, I had an Amazon Fire tablet in one hand and my cell phone in the other along with the sleeping cat. In my chair, I exchanged a few “happy new year” texts with family members.

For fun, I also sent my wife a few messages from across the room. I know, I was getting crazy. One thing we both knew was that neither of us would make it to midnight — that was a given.

At the end of each year, it’s routine to reflect on what has been and what may be. Although much of those spectrums are out of our control, we still contemplate.

For boomers we listen to the daily “breaking news” that broadcasters impart on us every evening with dramatic music. It’s all about negativity, divisive stories, blaming someone for something and “stirring the pot.”

I have witnessed a great deal in my lifetime, and in my opinion many aspects of our society seem to be doing OK. Each year we worry about the future of our children and grandchildren.

This year I am reflective for what has been lost. A couple of weeks after my mom passed away, her brother — my uncle — also passed away. This isn’t a story about family loss but the slipping away of this remarkable generation.

The term used by Tom Brokaw in his 1998 book was “The Greatest Generation.” First-hand accounts are vanishing from those who grew up in the Great Depression, dropped out of school to work, and survived World War II and Korea.

What they experienced, compared to society today, is almost incomprehensible. I heard on the radio the unemployment rate in Olmsted County is below 2 percent. During the Great Depression the unemployment rate reached 25 percent. People would barter with goods and services for food to eat.

I considered my uncle to be a “salt of the earth” guy. To me, this term means a hard working person, a man of integrity, a family guy. My uncle drove truck, hauling gravel, lime and fertilizer in Iowa for 52 years.

He had a passion for farming and also worked raising crops and cattle. Men like my uncle served their community. He and my aunt were members of their church for 50 years. My uncle served on the Soil Conservation Board and was a 66-year member of the local Masonic Lodge.

When I was young lad, and even as an adult, when he talked, I listened, in a sense a little starry-eyed. A few years ago during a visit I rode around his farm with him in his dusty old Chevy pickup. Throughout his life he always owned a Chevy truck. As I bounced around in the cab, he gave me his opinion on a number of topics. I absorbed every word and enjoyed every minute.

I believe those who experienced what that generation did learned lessons they carried with them their entire lives. I never talked to my uncle about this, but I would speculate one lesson was having an emergency fund, maybe even a little cash stashed in the mattress. They were not in search of more possessions than they needed. They took care of and maintained everything they owned. Family and faith were important.

This past Sunday, my wife and I attended a visitation for my uncle in Fairfield, Iowa. It was a warm January day in southern Iowa. Normally on a day like that my uncle, in his Chevy pickup, would have been on the move, accomplishing numerous chores.

This weekend that Chevy pickup, coated with fine Iowa dust, was parked. Every day more of that great generation slips away. They lived good, honorable lives.

I will miss him.

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