As part of a life story recording project with which I’ve been involved, I have interviewed dozens of elders over the last ten years. Each individual has a series of unique but somehow universal stories, which I’ve come to believe is a fundamental facet of human life. The details and degrees vary, but people basically face the same struggles and questions everywhere and at all times.
The current economic climate triggered my memory of a 2002 interview with a stoic but utterly honest 72-year-old man from western Michigan. He began the interview, as most people do, by trying to recall his earliest memories, but as these congealed he couldn’t help reflecting on the lasting effect on his life of his early years in the Depression. Then, unlike most other elders I’ve interviewed, he paused to make a connection with the present. He saw a clear link between those times and what he saw on the news about Afghanistan and the Middle East.
I’ll let his words say the rest. The pauses that I’ve indicated with “…” consisted of him trying to control his emotions—basically to keep from breaking down in sobs.
I was born in April, 1930, and they were bad times for my parents. They were broke, they had me coming, and there was no job at that time. If it hadn’t been for grandma we wouldn’t have eaten.
We changed homes three or four times in my early years. My father and mother had four children. My mother used to send me to a store, at least a half a mile from our home. I would go to Joe’s grocery store with a note and bring back bread and milk—that was about the only staples we got then, bread and milk.
These years that I went through as a young boy in the Depression were trying on a child as well as a parent because you listen to the fears and the wants and the inability that was weighing on all the parents. And it was a grandmother and grandfather that came to the rescue, because my parents of course were very young at that time and they didn’t have the experiences in life either. And the kids came along one-two-three-four.
Some of the things that happened in the early years … I have to get my composure on some of this … I guess if I were going to say something that would be educational is that parents don’t realize … parents don’t realize how much of their troubles and trials are passed on to their kids…. I’m just trying to get my thoughts here…. Anyway, you got to remember as a parent, you are gonna have trying times and it’s best to shield the kids to some degree, because a young mind sees them differently…. When I think of the times that some countries are going through now, and I see these t.v. pictures of youngsters and their parents, I can kind of relate to it.
As we all know, trying times go in cycles, and they always come back. As we, and others around us, face today’s trying times, I think these words ring truer than ever. We may not be able to control the course of events, but we can control how we project our reactions to those events onto others, especially kids. Maybe an exercise in storytelling—in remembering and sharing—is a good place to start. We all need ways to remove ourselves from the intensity of the moment, and building connections between the past and the present and between our generation and the new generation just might do the trick.
Young minds do see things differently. Let’s all make an effort to remember that as we help our families, our communities, and our world get back on track.