by Jan Baughman
Dad's Garden, May 2012
© 2012 Jan Baughman
(Swans - December 3, 2012) The Greatest Generation is a term coined by Tom Brokaw and the title of his 1998 book that described those who grew up in the Great Depression, served in World War II, and built America to superpower status. "It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced," he wrote, and it is quickly disappearing. My father was a product of this generation, and he passed away from advanced Parkinson's Disease on November 1 at the age of 91. He grew up in the Great Depression, survived the Dust Bowl, and got his military draft not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The changes he saw in his lifetime were staggering. He grew up in Colorado loving hunting, fishing, and horseback riding, and just over a month before his death, he trounced his two daughters at Wii bowling. He worked and struggled his whole life, from farming, to trucking, to landscaping, to make sure his children would have a decent life, annual vacations, a good education, and a better future.
Regarding the Dust Bowl, he wrote:
We had a lot of wind and blowing dust as this was the latter part of the Dust Bowl era. It would fill the main irrigation ditch with dirt. The ditch company hired men with teams and scrapers to clean the ditch, used a team pulling the slip full of dirt up and out of the ditch. The scrapers were similar to a large wheelbarrow without wheels. Was really hard on the horses. You hitched horses to it, and holding onto the handles you could dig in and fill it with dirt. I imagine it would hold around 500 pounds of dirt. The horses had to pull it up the banks, and we dumped it and went after another load. This was a horse killer. I usually changed teams after about four days. It wore me down, too. But it was good pay in those days, and it helped me to get a little more independent.
As he also wrote in his memoir, "Dad always told us if you want to buy something, work and save your money and get it" -- sage advice from the Great Depression.
When he got his draft notice, he asked for a 3-month deferment to help his father harvest the year's crop. He was told to report in one week. He chose the Navy and was assigned to the USS Asheville PF1, an antisubmarine patrol frigate that escorted convoys from New York to Europe via Cuba. After nine months, he was sent to Washington, D.C. for advanced fire control school, and it was there he met my mother, who worked in the Treasury Department. Following his training he was assigned to the destroyer USS Rogers. During a 3-day leave, he and my mother married, and not long after that his ship headed for Tokyo Bay to join the Fifth Fleet for the invasion of Japan, uncertain of its return. A month after the surrender, he got his discharge, picked up my mother, and headed back to the family farm.
Our generation has not experienced the struggles, the privation, the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation. Our wars are unprovoked, our economic challenges stem from greed, and our political struggles are waged in the name of power, not of people and serving the greater good (now negatively labeled as "Socialism").
After being hospitalized on October 8 and with his condition worsening, the doctor said he could not return to assisted living -- he was referred to hospice care in a nursing home. When my brother Mark broke this news to him, dad's response was "beggars can't be choosers." He knew he was at the mercy of a system -- Medicare and Medicaid -- that would decide what was best for him, and that would hopefully take care of him in his last few days. He'd paid into it, and he deserved it. But he was never a beggar...and he certainly did not choose the way his life ended. We owe it to the Greatest Generation to preserve the legacy of all they fought for to make our lives better, including Social Security and Medicare, "entitlements" that are repeatedly being threatened, and an education system that enriched the Baby Boomers but is now becoming inadequate and unaffordable for the next generation.
I was born in California and grew up in an era and a world apart from the life my dad lived on the Colorado farm; I only know it through his stories and those of my older siblings who were raised there. But one thing I do know is this: My father was the kindest and most caring man you would ever meet. He spent the last of his years and energy tending to a beautiful garden that brought joy to him and the ailing lives at his assisted-living home. He confronted challenges that I can't even fathom, the last one being the disease that sapped his strength, which for the first time in his hard-working life he could not regain. And he gave undying, unconditional love to me and my siblings -- Carol, Doug, and Mark. I'm grateful that his suffering is over, but his absence leaves a huge hole in my heart that no other human being can ever fill.
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