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Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

My Dad, They Call His The Greatest Generation

Aging / Elderly, Family, Holidays

Last week, I watched The Journey of Natty Gann while making some muffins and cleaning up the kitchen. If you have never seen the movie, it is a period piece, set in the early 1930s, during the depression. An out of work widower must choose between staying with his daughter in Chicago, or going out to Washington state for a rare chance to work. He has little choice but to leave the daughter in the care of a floozy of a landlady. Natty, the daughter (14 years old?), runs away from the bad landlady and rides the rails all the way out to Washington. (Many adventures along the way. It ends happily.)

What struck me about the movie was the utter poverty and hopelessness of the great depression and the terrible choices people had to make back then.

While watching, I realized that my dad would have been around the same age as Natty during that difficult time.

Like so many other children, my dad had to quit school (8th grade) to go to work. My dad really loved to play baseball, but couldn't join his brothers and the neighborhood guys in a game after dinner because he had to go to bed early. You see, dad was fortunate to get a job in a bakery. Being a baker meant very early to bed and very early to rise in order to get the baking finished by the time the shop opened.

The wages were low, I think he earned around $1.15 a week, but the job had a big perk: he could take home all the day-old bakery he wanted. With 7 mouths to feed in the family, 2 parents and 4 siblings, that was a blessing.

His dad, my grandfather, had to wake my dad up in the wee hours of the morning to go to work. I think it nearly killed my grandfather to do so, because he himself was out of work. He knew my dad should have been allowed the few pleasures a poor kid could have--playing with his neighborhood buddies. But my dad had to shoulder the responsibilities of an adult at age 13 and go to work. Come payday, my dad gave his earnings to his family.

His situation was not as dire as some; he knew he was blessed to be in an intact family that had a roof over their heads.

Whenever I heard my father tell that story, I never heard any bitterness or anger in his voice in the telling. There always was an attitude of gratitude in the fact that he had a job that paid money and had the benefit of the extra food. 

Later he joined the CCC, and even though he could have had a deferment, he joined the Marines. (Photo is dad in his Marine days; he was an aircraft mechanic.)

After WWII, he married, had a family, and continued working hard until 1982, when he retired.

The poor guy, he barely cashed his first Social Security check when my husband and I purchased a rental property in the Riverwest area. It was a BIG old flat that needed painting. My husband and I worked on it, and a host of other things that needed doing there, but seemed to get nowhere fast.

Seeing our need, my dad offered to help. The irony was, he had his own large townhouse sided so he would never have to paint again! But there he was at our rental, climbing ladders with brushes and paint bucket in hand. Not one to sit back in his retirement, he saw a need, filled it, and remained cheerful until the job was finished.

My dad worked hard all of his life. Maybe that is why he was able to stay independent in his own home for so long. Even at age 88, when we had that huge snow in November of 2007, he was still helping snow blowing the neighbors out!

Being always ready to lend a hand, that characterized my dad. "Can't complain" characterized his attitude in all things. 

I mentioned before that my dad had a stroke in April of 2008, but even through all of that--the many hospitalizations and therapies, the illnesses and trips to the emergency room for falls and injuries--there has never been a moment of self pity or anger.

I think the people of his generation experienced so much hardship in the great depression and WWII, that it forever shaped them into people of great strength. Sometimes that can make people bitter and hard, but not my dad. He always put his trust in the Lord. Dad, like Job in the Bible, always had the attitude of, "The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21 Or, put another way, he would say, "You've got to roll with the punches."

Even now, with halting speech and gait, if you ask him how he is, he still manages to look at you with his blue eyes and say say, "Can't complain."

Happy Father's Day, Dads. Don't ever think you are not leaving your mark on your world.

(I am still learning Job 1:21 and to be like my dad.)

Past post: My Favorite Marine

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