COVID 19: Lessons from the Greatest Generation
While adjusting to this hopefully temporary new normal, I’ve been consistently reminded of my grandparents. My grandfather was WWII and Korean War vet, painter (houses, not art) and an avid Mets, Giants, ND and Rush Limbaugh fan. He would have turned 100 this week. My grandmother was a married woman in 1940 at the age of SIXTEEN! She was an insane cook, prayed for (and worried about) everybody she loved incessantly, and was intentionally and unintentionally hilarious all of the time. They were together for 73 years before he passed. I was fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with them both well into my 30s and I think they even liked my wife more than me.
This week in quarantine has forced my family to slow down. Working from home, working out, family games, family meals, family prayer has provided an intentionality to our days that was more difficult to come by prior to this. Perhaps it’s this intentionality that keeps bringing to mind Willie and Ann Perry.
They grew up during the Great Depression before fighting for our country either abroad or at home in the US supporting the wartime economy. They won. Their generation, while In their 20s and 30s, provided an unprecedented quality of life for the next 3 generations. Quality of life is a meaningful phrase. They, along with their peers, shared a few qualities in common that lasted from their youth in a time of severe hardship throughout their lives. Here are just a few:
Thrift and Resourcefulness: We didn’t waste food at Grandma and Grandpa’s. The food was simple, but incredibly delicious. They didn’t dress to impress or buy fancy things, but they fixed the well made things they worked hard to buy.
Toughness: Small annoyances were just that, small. Troubles seemed to have their proper place and scope. They didn’t have internet, but if they did, I can’t imagine an inability to connect to WiFi absolutely ruining their day as it has mine. If they ran into trouble, they showed a remarkable ability to take it on the chin, be flexible, and figure it out. Quick story: they were broke. Grandma, who was a housewife, got a job as a greeter at KMart in her 70s. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before she was honored as employee of the month. She was so proud of the work she did and we knew it. The plaque hung proudly in her entryway.
Courteousness and Generosity: I can’t count the number of times growing up that I saw Grandpa, even as he got older, and older…. and older, go out of his way to open a door, over tip, or make somebody smile. It was his gift. Even in hospital beds he’d want to make sure the nurses were doing OK. Grandma, when she ended up in assisted living, would have her snacks stockpiled somewhere near her bed just to offer to the grandkids or great grandkid who visited.
Faithfulness: Grandma always laughed and talked and joked. That is until she took out her rosaries and prayed, eyes closed and head bent, for what seemed like hours. Had she been younger, I would bet my left hand that the woman would have been diagnosed at some point with ADD. This did not apply while she spent time with God. Grandpa went to Mass every single day for as long as I knew him. Afterward, he’d get a coffee and the New York Post and maybe a lottery ticket or two from WaWa and set about his day. Their faith was simply a part of their daily life.
We are facing hardship. Maybe it will blow over or maybe this is just the beginning. But greatness is forged by hardship. Greatness is born of goodness. The Greatest Generation came out of the Great Depression on top. Perhaps this is our chance to become great like our grandparents.