Saturday, January 5, 2008

More on The Greatest Generation

I went to give blood yesterday and was talking with the nurse about The Greatest Generation. She offered, “Another thing that could disappear with TGG is the level of volunteerism; look around you here.” Of the many folks working the blood drive, I’d venture to say that at least 60% of them were senior citizens. From greeting donors at the door, to keeping them company while they donate, to serving snacks before they go, the volunteer’s presence is invaluable to the American Red Cross.

Of course, there are volunteers of all ages working for numerous charitable organizations across this country and the globe, but the importance of TGG as volunteers cannot be overlooked, because I think they are the last of a generation (or close to it) who were able to retire early enough to have time to volunteer. Think about it; they are savers. They lived through the Great Depression and World War II and knew that hard work and saving money were the key to future security. The reason so any older folks are able to volunteer is that they quit working at 65 years of age. Today, many of us will not have planned well enough to retire while we are still relatively young and vigorous. Call the TGG the Ants, and many of the rest of us Grasshoppers, if you will, of retirement planning.

As my brother Dennis so aptly pointed out, TGG is also a patriotic generation, again due to the times they grew up in. No self-respecting TGG would dare keep his hat on during the National Anthem, even at a Packers game. The Greatest Generation not only loves its country, but respects it and the symbols that stand for it. When you go to vote, notice how many senior volunteers are there. TGGs (including my 78-year old mom) don’t think twice about manning the polls on Election Day from before sunrise to after sunset. The Greatest Generation treasures the right to vote and recognizes it as a responsibility, not an option. I wonder what the polls will look like 10 years from now.

The reason so many TGGs are patriotic is that they are all first or second generation immigrants during a time when coming to this country was a privilege. When my parents’ grandparents arrived here from Germany, Sweden, England, France, they were proud to learn English and worked hard to support their families. It may come as a surprise to at least a few that there was no government Welfare during that time; people took care of each other, churches helped the unfortunate, and people knew that if they wanted to eat, they had to work, hard. When they stepped off the boat, our forefathers and mothers cried, knowing the opportunities they had in front of them and that they themselves would determine their successes or failures. They learned English and were proud to do so; they developed character in the process of having to learn things the hard way. Don’t get me wrong; this is not a rant against immigrants today. I just think the respect for the opportunity and the patriotism of many who are already here has faded.

The TGG also knows how to sacrifice. “What’s that?” some spoiled 21st century kids will ask. “You mean like only getting one X-Box game for Christmas?” If The Greatest Generation wanted a new coat, they saved for it, foregoing luxuries until they had the money and gaining character when they saw the results of their hard work and sacrifice. Credit cards only became popular during the 1950’s, when The American Dream began to morph into The American Demand. Living through WWII rationing also taught TGG that sometimes everyone needs to sacrifice for the good of the group, and although it was tough going without, they did it and felt good about contributing. Again, Ants and Grasshoppers.

The last thing I think will die with The Greatest Generation, sadly, is the stigma that used to come with being on Welfare. Before some freak gets all on me for criticizing the unfortunate, know this: I know first-hand what it is like to be poor and to need food stamps and housing assistance to survive. I’m talking about the fact that there is a difference between using Welfare the way it was intended and the way it is often used today. The Greatest Generation would have been ashamed to think that their children and their grandchildren would rely on handouts from the government. Today, however, there are generations growing up in families that not only take the handouts, but demand them and have no interest in becoming self-sufficient. For TGG, self-respect is critically important.

So…from chivalry, to hard work and sacrifice, patriotism and self-respect, I will miss The Greatest Generation when they are gone. I promise to do everything in my power to instill these traits in my own children, as well as my students; not only because I value the traits, but because I feel I owe it to those who came before me. The Greatest Generation took the seeds of freedom and opportunity and fertilized them. I think it’s our job to see that they are watered.


  1. Mrs. 4444, Glad I stopped by here after seeing you cute blog name at Lysa T's site. These were some loving tributes to The greatest generation and I must agree with you. We are the next generation and we must do all we can to pass on these values that are dissipating in front of our eyes.


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