Some sad-sacked soul recently sighed in a social media post, “I miss the America my parents grew up in.”
I don’t miss the America in which my parents grew up. Not a bit!
My father and mother were born in 1912 and 1919, respectively. The person who shared the social media post is slightly older than me, so I suspect his parents are roughly of the same vintage.
My parents were 17 and 10 when the Great Depression hit. I suspect it took some time before it hit the farms upon which they lived, but hit it did. My maternal grandparents were poultry farmers. My mother talked of how during those Depression years they could not sell a single goose or duck.
There was an article in The Verona Press several years ago about the Depression-era boyhood of one of my late parishioners. He was about my parents’ age. His story told of being so poor all his parents could afford to patch his britches was leftover cardboard.
I love trips down memory lane as much as the next person. Part of my bachelor’s degree is in the field of history. But I don’t want to go back to that America my parents once knew.
Social Security began in 1935. My Dad was 23 then. Farmers did not have to pay into it at the start. I don’t know when Dad started paying into Social Security, but I am deeply grateful he started at some point.
He died when I was 3, and my older brother and I received monthly benefit checks until we graduated from college. I know what it means to depend on that money.
What did people do before Social Security was a thing? I don’t want to go back to that America.
Women had few options to choose from in terms of an occupation to pursue when my parents were growing up.
My wife and I have two daughters. One is an ordained minister and the other is a professor of chemistry. Those fields were all but closed to women back in the day. They are barely open now.
I am glad our daughters have the opportunity to do what they do. They would not have had much of a chance had they lived when their grandparents were little.
My Dad might have remembered World War I, and he served in the India-Burma-China Theater during World War II. Those on the home front sacrificed for the war effort by adhering to the constraints of rationing.
Wearing a mask and social distancing seem easy when compared to living on rations of gasoline, sugar, butter and the like. I’ll take this America over that.
Roman Catholics and Protestants held one another in suspicion in America one or two generations ago.
Several factors led to the defeat of Alf Landon in the presidential election of 1936, but certainly anti-Catholicism was one. In 1960, John F. Kennedy had to work to win over the hearts of Protestants doubtful a Catholic could be president.
As late as 1968, Paul Simon, then serving in the Illinois State Senate, and his wife felt the need to pen a book under the title, “Protestant-Catholic Marriages Can Succeed.”
He was a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; she was Roman Catholic. When they married in her church in 1960, his father, a Lutheran minister, could not participate in the ceremony.
Times changed sometime thereafter. Simon happily reported in his 1999 autobiography that when his daughter, a Roman Catholic, married a Protestant in a Roman Catholic church, Simon’s brother, a Lutheran clergyman, was able to participate in the ceremony.
Mental illness was kept hidden in the America in which my parents were raised.
The two of them were from Elgin, Illinois, home of Elgin State Hospital, then a rather well-known mental institution. The facility operates under a different name now and many of the old buildings have been razed but I recall it being a fortress of a place, heavily fenced and guarded.
Beyond that, I remember being made aware of people in the surrounding farm communities who were not institutionalized but “kept” on their family farms. We knew about them. Barely. Some were more highly functional than others. But nearly all were kept mostly out of sight.
What could they have become if they had been given a chance?
If this were a sermon, I’d be working from a Bible text and the text would be Ecclesiastes 7:10: “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
Nostalgia has its good place but not as a philosophy of life.
Rather than go back to the America in which my parents were raised, I’d rather press on toward the America of which they dreamed.