Here is a copy of a message I sent to my sisters and brother on my Dad's birthday this year; February 1 would have been my Dad's 100 year old birthday. He was born February 1, 1911 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Of course my memories of yesteryear must always include my life with my Dad and Mom, brother and sisters. I know it is the same for many who have fond memories of growing up in their own family. Really, when you think of it, memories are really great...but I do love to look forward too.
Just for a couple of minutes however, take a walk down memory lane; so many people alive in America right now have experienced these very decades. Perhaps that is why they were called by Tom Brokaw "The Greatest Generation."
Just a note to say Happy Birthday to Dad who would have been 100 years old today. He worked hard all his life even though the times in which he lived dealt him a weak hand. Think of the decades of his life. Born in 1911 just four years after Oklahoma moved from being Indian Territory to a state, Oklahoma. It was still rough around the edges with people still living in the wilderness of the un-tamed West. The horse and wagon was still the primary means of local transportation with the car becoming into its own during Dad's first decade.
By the time he was 10 years old in 1921 the "War to End all Wars" had been fought from 1914 to 1919. WWI had been the bloodiest war to date with over nine million people dead. I'm sure that he heard stories from his Dad and Mom about the war and the people fighting it. I am sure it must have had a lasting effect on his life. But as he entered his tenth year he was also entering the decade of the 1920's which was a time of growth in America with Speakeasies and gangsters headlining the radio stations. In fact, the decade was labeled as the "Roaring Twenties" with post-war growth and some prosperity. I believe I remember that Granddad owned a little gas station during that time. I can almost see Dad puttering around the station, not doing much work with his two left hands, but kicking the can across the parking lot as Granddad waited on customers.
Even though he perhaps came of age during that second decade, the first flawed hand had already been dealt. In 1929 the banks in America and around the world fell with the crash of the stock market. By the time he was 20 years old in February 1931 he had already experienced a taste of the world-wide depression. For that decade he found little work, even though he managed to get married to Mom and had a “ready-made” family. With promises of work in Iowa he migrated toward a promise. But as depressions go, this one had very little hope. Being called back to Muskogee I remember some of his stories about the time when he set bowling pins for a day’s work just to earn 12 cents for his efforts.
Just as he might have been rising from his knees to his feet from the drag of his third decade and the depression that made such a mark on him, the Japanese decided to make his next decade a memorable one. In 1941 with their attack on Pearl Harbor the world again plunged into a second world war. Like so many others he left home and went to Germany where he served in the army as that war was fought.
I often wondered why he liked Ike so much. But in his next decade of life, now in his forties, he liked Ike because by 1952 when Eisenhower was elected to his first term, Dad was finally beginning to see the light. This was the first real decade of his life that held a hope for the future; one with peace and possible prosperity. For that decade he saw a lasting peace (notwithstanding Korea), at least for him anyway. He saw his kids growing and moving into their own lives. My sister going off to college, the first child to go to college, get married; the other kids in school thriving the advent of television and the benefits of the newly found military-industrial revolution that brought a variety of modern conveniences. Even though he lost his own Dad during that decade, he had a family, a steady job, a strong foundation of church life, and the prospects of an extended security.
By the time 1961 came around I lingered until graduation but then left the nest. I didn't live around him too much after that, but I know that those last decades were happier ones for him. He had been to weddings, graduations, flourishing grandchildren and finally seemed to have enough money to be comfortable.
He sometimes told me that he thought his life had been a failure. I don't think he believed that in his later years because he realized that things had really turned for him after he left the army in 1945. I saw a lot of days where his pride came alive and he felt good about things, especially the accomplishments of his kids. So here we are, a hundred years later, the four of us who are left, and I say for my part I believe Dad had a wonderful life, accomplished a great deal, has a great heritage, and I remember him fondly.
Happy Birthday, Dad.