To begin to describe how modern life is so different from the life led by our forebears, you could do worse than begin with the children.
The frailty of their children haunted our forebears. They lost so many to disease and other misfortunes. I hear that at one time the practice of our forebears was they would wait several months before naming their babies to see if they would indeed survive.
My Harris great-grandparents lost two young children. My Harris grandparents lost one. My parents almost lost me. I’ll save the details of that for a more complete account at another time.
I came across this little tidbit: In the 1850s the infant mortality rate in America was 216.8 deaths per 1,000 for whites and a whopping 340.0 for African Americans, many of whom lived in impoverished conditions due to slavery. That’s a lot of especially heart-rending funerals.
The rate now is down to 9.2 deaths, the lowest ever, according to the Centers For Disease Control.
But those cold, hard numbers from olden days do not portray the pain and suffering, the trauma, brought on by such a weight of so many early, young deaths. Many of our forebears had to carry that burden.
That had to affect them deeply.
Notice in the new “Lincoln” movie how they portray the anguish of Abe and Mary Lincoln upon the death of their young son, Willie.
My grandparents lost a 1-year-old girl to disease. Her grave is right beside my great-grandfather’s. I’ll think of them when I see that movie scene.
My great-grandparents lost a young son when a horse ran the boy into a crossbeam in the barn and killed the boy. Great-grandmother blamed great-grandfather, according to the story I heard, and they were never the same afterward.
There’s been some chatter around lately about a study from up North about how much the times have changed us.
The Grant Study followed 268 students of Harvard College, now University, near Boston starting in 1937. The late President Kennedy was among the students tracked.
The study has tracked the students throughout their lives and now into their senior years using periodic questionnaires, health records and interviews. It examined the changes they’ve experienced.
One point from the study that has garnered some attention of late is a conclusion that seems to discredit the traditional, masculine role model of the strong, silent type.
The study said those with warm, intimate relationships when young lived longer and were happier than those who had colder, more stoic home lives.
In other words, those who had teddy-bear parents came out on top. That’s bad news for the Marshall Dillon, Gary Cooper types.
But may I put in a word for the strong, silent type.
That characterized the children of the Great Depression, a time of great stress in America. Times were hard and money was scarce. Jobs were hard to obtain, farm commodity prices collapsed, and hunger was rife across the country.
Another little tidbit: half of the American inductees coming out of the Great Depression and at the beginning of World War II showed signs of malnourishment in their physicals.
It’s hard for us today to grasp the depth of the pain and suffering, the trauma, brought on by such hardship as that caused by the Great Depression. Then followed a world war, a double whammy.
That had to haunt the Greatest Generation, as they call it. They were haunted as were the generations before who lost so many children. Those tough times in the early 20th Century were enough to drive anyone into a shell.
Such stressful times demanded strong men. Then was not a time for trivialities. It was a time to work and work hard and work long.
It was not a time that lent itself to soul-searching, second-guessing and psychoanalysis - the soft side.
While growing up, I saw plenty of examples of the strong, silent type among my male elders here in the hometown including my own father. I remember them as hard-working, serious and focused on the tasks at hand.
I noticed an edge to the women of the Greatest Generation as well.
They were products of their time. They didn’t have the luxury of stopping and examining their feelings.
There were some gregarious souls among the bunch, of course. But on the whole those of the Greatest Generation remained serious and with an edge throughout their lives.
We who are younger similarly are products of our times, and we would do well to not cast stones. I think the Greatest Generation did pretty well.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.