We pass them in the halls at church, the mall, and sometimes in our homes when the grandkids come with our children. As a high school graduate of 1954, I rarely interact with the class of 2014 because I’m 60 years older and move in a different universe than they. The question is: Is my generation, the “Silent Generation,” totally irrelevant to them?
Imagine my class upon entering Enid High School in the fall of 1951 and sitting in assembly listening to a speaker 60 years older than our class e.g., the classes of 1892-1894! Whoa! So, I looked back to those years to see what that speaker would have said about his high school years.* Would I have considered his youth relevant to mine?
Ninth Cavalry arrived at the Pine Ridge Indian Agency in South Dakota just in time to prevent a massacre of their white comrades by the Indians. General Miles encircled the Indians with troops to starve them into submission. Pine Ridge was menaced by 3,000 hostiles, but after three days of negotiations, the Indians surrendered.
The first execution of a criminal by electricity was performed at Sin Sing Prison. An additional section of 800,000 acres of the Indian Territory of Oklahoma was thrown open to 15,000 persons assembled at the border. The triple alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy was renewed. An influenza epidemic prevailed in various U.S. cities. Poet Walt Whitman died. The Chinese Exclusion Bill was passed. Siam was taken over by France.
U.S. marines land in the Hawaiian Islands, which are made a U.S. Protectorate. America’s quadri-centennial is celebrated with World’s Fair in Chicago. The Panama Company of France fails, leaving the canal unfinished. Destructive storms inflict massive destruction and cause 1,700 deaths in Carolinas and Mobile Bay. Composer Tschaikovsky dies in Russia where up to 1,000 a day are dying in a cholera epidemic.
Nicholas II is crowned the Russian Czar in St. Petersburg. Author Robert Louis Stevenson dies in Samoa. An effective method of treating lockjaw and diphtheria is discovered. The Pullman car strike involving 40,000 railroad employees brings rail service in the West to a halt. American naval station is established at Pearl Harbor. Five independent burrows joined to form New York City with 319 square miles and a population of 3 million. The President pardons and grants full amnesty to Mormons convicted of polygamy. Japanese forces fight Chinese in Wei Hei, China. China appealed to the Powers to intervene. Japanese conquer Port Arthur in Manchuria. At years end, the Chinese sued for peace with Japan.
One of my grandchildren just left after four years at OBU. He lived with us the first three of those years. He is married and a parent now and back home in Atlanta living with his parents while he seeks his first job out of college. It didn’t take a village to get him to this point, but it did take an extended family, and that help will continue throughout his lifetime.
Page 2 of 2 - Our lives are like a telescope, one of those monocular kind that is a series of tubes that extends as the tubes are pulled out. Each section rests on an earlier section and in turn provides the support for the succeeding segment, and in the process permits the view of the user to reach farther ahead. The question we asked, however, was not about the view ahead of the young but the relevance of the elderly left behind.
A telescope may also be viewed from either end. Look back in it is largely irrelevant to the view ahead, but not so in life. Everything ahead for the young is connected to and affected by all that preceded it. As we saw in our three-year review of history, much that came before affected what followed.
My advice is two-fold. Youth need to pay attention to what goes on around them. On my way to a track meet in 1952 I saw a lone African-American man plowing behind a mule. That was a piece of history that a decade later was relevant to the Civil Rights movement. In 1953 while running here in the Bison relays, I hopped a ride downtown to view the body of Jim Thorpe then lying in state in the Roesch Funeral Home. In my freshman year at OU in 1954 I was a member of the class than was first to include African-Americans. In 1961 while attending a hospital convention in Kansas City, I slipped over to the Truman Museum and obtained a 15-minute personal interview with him. Life isn’t a random event.
Second, history isn’t just an interesting or perhaps easy course: it is crucial to understanding the future. My favorite syndicated financial writer, Malcolm Berko wrote, “Past performance has always been the best predictor of future results.”* We interpret our experiences through the prism of our past which should be informed by the recorded experiences of our predecessors e.g., history.
If you think you will be relevant to your kids and grandkids, why aren’t your parents and grandparents relevant to you? Yes, Class of 2014, your grandparents’ memories are relevant to your future. Talk to them while you can.
• Emerson, Edwin, and M.M. Miller [Eds], The Nineteenth Century and After,’
NY: P.F. Collier & Son, 1906. Pp1120-1141.
• Berko, Malcolm, The Daily Oklahoman, June 16, 2013, pg4c.