June 1, 2010

The Ashes of our Heritage

maryBy Mary Schricker, SRES
Ruhl&Ruhl Real Estate

They have stories to tell, and we need to learn to listen. My challenge to you as readers is to take the time to listen and record the stories of your fathers and grandfathers before they are lost.
– Tom Brokaw

In the words of journalist Tom Brokaw:

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled; instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.

This generation was united not only by a common purpose, but also by common values, “duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and, above all, responsibility for oneself.”

Tom Brokaw dubbed them “The Greatest Generation Ever” in his book by the same name. My dad was one of these heroes. The word “hero” is a definitive term. My dad did not serve in the front lines and face
primitive conditions of war, but he was part of this infamous generation, united by the same common values. He was and is in my mind a member of the “Greatest Generation Ever.”

I share with you the memory of my father. He was a man of little education, a great sense of adventure, a deep and abiding love for his family and his God, guided by a wonderful sense of humor surpassed only by his reputation as a great story teller. My dad died at the age of eighty five after many years of poor health. He appeared to have nine lives, bouncing back after several near death experiences. During all of these lapses he maintained an optimistic attitude, an indelible footprint by which I attempt to live my life. He shared some stories of his youth with his three impressionable grandsons. Now several years after his death, I watch all three of these young men and proudly see bits and pieces of my dad in each of them. My only regret is that, while he was alive, I did not listen more intently to his stories and ask more questions.

After my father’s death, when cleaning out his dresser, my mom found two baseballs. As she handed them over to me, I paused and remembered something of a story my dad once told me about caddying for the St. Louis Cardinal players during their time away from the game of baseball. I have to admit I have little recollection of the details, but as I gazed at the somewhat faded signature of Stan Musial, I regretted not listening more carefully. My dad’s details of that encounter are buried with him just as many other stories of countless fathers, grandfathers, and heroes. If I could have but one wish it would be to bring my father back for a short time so I could ask him about the day he caddied for Stan Musial.

As someone who works in the senior community, I am often privileged to hear the stories of our heroes, those who have endured hardship and survived. Unfortunately I often meet them when their health has failed and they are faced with emotional or physical adversity. Beneath their frail existence, I see much determination and strength. They have stories to tell, and we need to learn to listen. My challenge to you as readers is to take the time to listen and record the stories of your fathers and grandfathers before they are lost. We have a generation of men and women who have seen and experienced a history that will never again be paralleled or repeated. When they leave this earth they will bury with them the stories of these experiences; if we do not somehow find a way to preserve them for the generations to come they will become the ashes of our heritage.