Generations

By: Bogon , 10:42 PM GMT on June 05, 2012

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In 1889 my grandfather was born into a different world. It was a world powered by horses and steam engines. It had been twenty years — one generation — since the opening of the transcontinental railroad. The United States was becoming a world leader in industry and innovation. Major technology companies that we might recognize by their acronyms today — American Telephone & Telegraph, General Electric, Standard Oil and Westinghouse — were also being born. Then, as now, unscrupulous businessmen made the news, drove the economy and manipulated politicians. It was the Gilded Age.

My grandfather was named after Grover Cleveland, who in 1884 became the first Democratic presidential candidate elected since before the American Civil War. The Democratic Party ruled the South. It was the party of resentment. Republican Abraham Lincoln had presided over the defeat of the southern states during the war. Generations of ex-Confederates could not forgive or forget.

For generations of American Blacks, the majority of whom lived in the South, the promise of emancipation went largely unfulfilled. The system was systematically rigged against them.

Grandpa grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina. That part of the world was relatively unaffected by many of these events and issues. On the steep and remote mountain land there had been no plantations and therefore no slavery. There was little industrialization. As a young man my grandfather worked for one of the companies that logged timber throughout the region, until he had enough money to buy land of his own, and until the wholesale depredation of virgin forest prompted the formation of the National Forest Service.

Grandpa raised a family on his patch of ground. Through the Roaring Twenties and into the Great Depression he was able to eke out a living by being self-sufficient. For a while he operated a grist mill. He raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Grandma kept a garden. They had a spring for water, and they burned wood for fuel. They never had much cash, so the ups and downs of the external economy didn't make much difference.

In 1921 my father was born into a different world, a world rattled and rearranged by war. It had been exactly a century since the advent of mass production using interchangeable parts, a process adopted by Ransom Olds and Henry Ford for the manufacture of automobiles. At Ford's plant in Detroit a new Model T rolled off the line every fifteen minutes. It was the second year of Prohibition. Then, as now, supporters of the Republican Party believed that they could legislate morality. Some of Dad's tales mentioned moonshine, usually with a smile. :o)



Prohibition was repealed by the time Dad was a teenager. Betty Boop's implied promise of legalized beer became a reality. We still live with Prohibition's legacy, however, in the form of organized crime and the so-called "War on Drugs". It's still a game of Baptists and Bootleggers.

One of the significant differences in Dad's world was his opportunity for education. Dad attended a little neighborhood schoolhouse, the land for which had been carved out of one end of Grandpa's farm. The school was painted white, and it had a bell tower almost like a church. I'm old enough to have seen the (disused and ruined) building before it was torn down. It wasn't the stereotypical one-room schoolhouse; it had two or three.

As Dad described those days, there was a great deal of community support for education. His parents and teachers told him that, if he ever hoped to "amount to something", he needed to do well in school. So he did.

By the time he was ready for secondary school, there was a school bus to take him there. The high school was in the town of Mars Hill. There also was Mars Hill College, the logical next step. The small college offered a two-year program, after which Dad moved on to Western Carolina Teachers College (now a state university) in Cullowhee. Grandpa couldn't supply much in the way of funding, but Dad made up for that with motivation. He worked his way to a college degree, the first ever awarded to a native of his rural mountain hollow.

The next major development in Dad's life was set in motion by a contemporary of my grandfather, a fellow named Adolf Hitler. World War II was a big deal for my parents' generation. The economy had rebounded from the Depression, but now there was rationing. Everybody was enjoined to support the war effort. Eventually Dad chose to volunteer in the Army Air Force rather than take a chance on the draft board. He never tired of telling "war stories". I'd like to explain about all his heroic actions as a bomber pilot, but that's not how it worked out. The Air Force shipped Dad all over the country for training. As the war progressed and the needs of the service changed, as new technology was developed and better planes deployed, Dad's assignment kept changing, and they would ship him to another unit. Dad never fired a shot. The war ended before he ever got there. One of his last duties as a cadet was to ferry a brand new shiny B-32 to its ultimate destination... for demolition. When he told that story, he would always look down and sadly shake his head.

Following the war many returning veterans got married and started families. Millions of babies were born within a few years. All those babies made a big bulge on the demographic chart, rather like the bulge a rabbit makes after being devoured by a boa constrictor. That bulge was called the Baby Boom. That's where I come in.



This entry has gotten long enough. I'll talk about m-my g-g-generation next time.

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12. Bogon
2:08 AM GMT on June 13, 2012
I'm up.

The network is up.

To what are you up, Ylee?
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3762
11. Ylee
9:47 PM GMT on June 12, 2012
Hey, Bogon! What's up?
Member Since: February 3, 2011 Posts: 96 Comments: 16066
10. Bogon
1:08 PM GMT on June 08, 2012
Yeah, the journey to the outhouse was fraught with peril. As a small child I remember being frightened of a large spider hanging in the corner. =o[ Fortunately it was a two-holer, and I could sit on the far side.

When I was about seven years old, my dad was able to build a new house for his parents. It was a modest three bedroom structure constructed of cinder blocks. It had indoor plumbing, electricity and a thermostatically controlled oil-fired furnace. It was sturdy and tight. Compared to the old house it was a big improvement.

The old house was torn down many years ago. I can still remember things about it, such as the sound the kitchen door made when it bumped the wall. I wish I could go back there, just for a day, to sleep in the feather bed and wake up to the smell of Grandma's biscuits.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3762
9. Ylee
10:00 AM GMT on June 08, 2012
Your grandpa's house sounds a lot like my grandparents; instead of rock piers their house sits on large concrete pillars. Since it was built in the years after WWII, the house was built from green locust wood. The wood is rot resistant, but as it dried it caused mmy grandad's asthma to flare up., as well as the wood bending and twisting over time, leaving not a plumb wall in the house.

They also had the stove in the kitchen and furnace in the living room. Coal was the fuel of choice, as it offered consistent and cheap heat. The house itself originally consisted of three rooms(the two kids slept in the living room) and the Stokermatic was more than able to heat the 650 square foot house!

A well was dug at the beginning, but they didn't get running water until the late 50s. An outhouse sufficed until the 70s, when my uncle coverted a 10'x4' slot of the bedroom to a bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower! At 60 , grandma could finally do her business without worrying about wasps and snakes! :)
Member Since: February 3, 2011 Posts: 96 Comments: 16066
8. Bogon
11:58 AM GMT on June 07, 2012
Good morning, Ylee.

In my early memories of going over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house, that house was one Grandpa had built himself, perhaps with help from his community. It was built on piled rock piers; the floors weren't quite level. It was handmade. Each board was one of a kind.

The kitchen stove heated the kitchen summer and winter. There was another stove that warmed the living room in winter. The bedroom was unheated. Grandma's quilts kept you cozy deep in her feather bed.

There was no indoor plumbing. A privy stood a short way up the hill behind the house. Water had to be carried from a spring in buckets. That was a chore for my aunt. She didn't seem to regard it as particularly onerous, because they had always done things so. They knew how to live that way.

They had electricity, but it was a fairly recent addition to the home. It was used mostly for lighting. They didn't have many gadgets that needed to be plugged in. I recall that Grandma had one major labor-saving device, her butter churn. The electric motor replaced my dad, who used to supply motive power for the churn before he moved away from home to start a life of his own.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3762
7. Ylee
10:56 AM GMT on June 07, 2012
A most excellent post, Bogon!

Mechinazation and electricity were game-changers for my grandfather, as he had neither until he was up in his 40s, during the late 1940s/early 1950s. Suddenly his ability to produce extra income shot up, and he was able to buy a farm of his own!

Dad was a War Baby. by the time he was old enough to remember, his home was about to get electricity, or already had electrity. The world beckoned, and the farm couldn't hold him down.

I have more to write as well, but I've run out of time! :)
Member Since: February 3, 2011 Posts: 96 Comments: 16066
6. Bogon
2:47 AM GMT on June 07, 2012
ycd - I'm glad you enjoyed part one. I don't really consider myself a storyteller. Maybe I can improve with practice.

Today I got the first draft of part two in the can. Feels good to have that done. There won't be a part three, but I've bought some time to think about whatever comes next.

Took my car into the shop today for maintenance. As I was walking home, I saw a sign proudly displayed in front of a house:

A WORLD WAR TWO VETERAN LIVES HERE!

The house had one of those long wheelchair ramps installed on the front door. The Greatest Generation is almost history.

Cal - This kind of writing is a new departure for me. If you learned something from it, you're not alone.

Thank both of you, by the way, for taking the time to say something. It helps.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3762
5. LowerCal
9:23 PM GMT on June 06, 2012
I enjoyed your account of the first two generations. It led me to appreciate the magnitude of the technological and cultural changes that were taking place even then in a way I never have before.
Member Since: July 26, 2006 Posts: 58 Comments: 9217
4. ycd0108
3:00 PM GMT on June 06, 2012
Fine story Bogon. One of them unrepentant Rebels (last seen in S.C.) is threatening to show up here tomorrow. I always find his take on politics and the "economy" very interesting.
Grandpa did not go to his generation's war but Dad spent four years in Britain before he met his four year old twin daughters.
I showed up a couple of years later.
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 182 Comments: 4665
3. Bogon
11:36 AM GMT on June 06, 2012
This morning we're having what the weather service forecaster in Raleigh characterizes as "unsettled weather". For my part I must admit that unsettled is better than hot, which is what we'll have once things, uh, settle.

The white crepe myrtle is blooming. White seems to lead the charge each year, ahead of the other colors. Normally I wouldn't expect to see the myrtles bloom until summer heat begins in earnest, which it surely will by July 4th. Nevertheless, I saw pink crepe myrtle blossoming in Chapel Hill last weekend. Chapel Hill is about twenty-file miles (40 km) southeast and two hundred feet (60 m) downhill from my location.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3762
2. Bogon
4:10 AM GMT on June 06, 2012
Thanks, Prose. You win first post!

Your mother has my sympathies. There were a lot of good men who did not return from the first world war. The generals who conducted the war were slow to change their tactics in the face of lethal new weapons such as the machine gun. Few people alive today will appreciate what a meat grinder that war was, unless they take the trouble to learn more about it than the dates and the participants.

Add: My grandfather lived, because he did not go. Speaking with the benefit of nearly a century of hindsight, I must say that the only sane action one might have taken with regard to WWI would have been to stay as far away from it as possible. It's unfortunate that it took place in such a densely populated area (Europe), and that the combatants initially had no idea of what they were getting into. What is even sadder is that so many callow youths arrived at the battlefront still entertaining quaint notions of glory and chivalry.
Member Since: June 26, 2008 Posts: 79 Comments: 3762
1. Proserpina
11:08 PM GMT on June 05, 2012
Excellent generational blog. Your family history is truly the history of this country and the tremendous changes each generation made. Very enjoyable read.

I am halfway through a generational tome (historical novel)"The Fall of Giants". At the moment, I am in the trenches of WWI and battles between German and English troops. War and battles are usually not my kind of themes for the books I read but this book has caught my interest and I actually understand the dynamics of this war.

Just like your father, my mother was born into a world that was shaped by WWI. But unlike your father, she was orphaned because of the wounds grandpa suffered in the war.

Well, I am going back to my book. Have a lovely evening.

Member Since: May 6, 2008 Posts: 174 Comments: 18296

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About Bogon

Unemployed software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...

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