“My uncles would sit around the fireplace at night and talk about (fighting in) the Civil War. ‘We’ll lick’em yet!’ they’d say.” Born in 1873, not even a decade after Appomattox, my grandfather lived (and re-lived) much of history.
As a boy in Lampasas, Texas, he went to school with one of the younger Horrell brothers of the infamous Higgins-Horrell feud. When someone asked young Mr. Horrell what he wanted to do when he grew up, he’d reply, “I’m gonna kill Pink Higgins!” (He didn’t.)
Only “subscription” schools existed in those early days, and Professor and Mrs. Aten who ran such a school in the small central Texas town were personal friends of President James A. Garfield who died of wounds inflicted by would-be assassin Charles Guiteau. Grandpa remembered, “The bell in the top of the school tolled all day the day he died (in 1881)."
Later, he managed one year at Add-Ran College at Thorp Springs, the forerunner of Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University founded by brothers Addison and Randolph Clark. Every morning the students attended chapel/assembly often personally conducted by one of the brothers.
I grew up quite literally at my grandfather’s knee and often reflect on the interest/love for history he imparted and the awe I felt for his being witness to so much. Then recently it came to me that history is made daily, and I can tell my grandchildren many tales, too.
FDR was President when I was born, and World War II was still raging in the Pacific. Before I learned to walk, Hiroshima and Nagasaki all but disappeared in an atomic cloud. “The war” wasn’t history then but rather a part of my daily life as I rubbed shoulders with other children whose fathers had gone off to fight—and some hadn’t come home.
The “police action” reared its ugly head in Korea about the time I started school. When President Truman removed GeneralMacArthur from command, many Sundays were spent hearing it discussed around the dinner table. In 1952, I paused at the back door of my grandparents’ home on the way across the yard to my own and heard the solemn announcement that a truce had been signed.
Alan Shepard made a brief foray into space the year I began high school. The principal broadcast the momentous event on the speaker system.
In October 1962, as a freshman in college, I waited and wondered during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Just over a year later, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas only 35 miles away.
The fire of Viet Nam began to burn just after that. This undeclared war belonged to my generation. Too many years later, with a two-year-old at my feet, I watched the last POWs repatriated.
I could list many, many other significant historical events, but suffice it to say I finally understand I, too, have lived the making of history. My children don’t remember the struggle for Civil Rights. To my grandchildren, a man walking on the moon is just ho-hum.
But I, like Grandpa, lived through it. I witnessed all of these events first hand and experienced the accompanying emotions, and I tried to pass on whatever wisdom I’d gained to my children. I worry now, though, that my grandchildren won’t understand the events which shaped their world. To be involved citizens with an informed vote, they must know what happened and why it happened and how to keep it from happening again.
The current generation is steered solely toward the present, shielded from the past, and encouraged to be casual about the future. Perhaps that’s been true of every generation to some extent. But it’s a slippery slope.
And, if we slide to the bottom, can we climb up again?
Visit my website Someday Is Here.