On Losing a Generation, but Keeping Their Legacy


Remembering the Greatest Generation

“Almost there,” I tell my squirming toddler. “See? Playground.” We stumble through the door of Chick-Fil-A. She squeals, seeing only the indoor playground. I pause, seeing only the man beside it.

A wrinkled man sits in a corner, alone at the table beside the kiddie area. White tufts of hair peek out from beneath a blue cap embroidered with yellow words, in proud capitals: WW II VET. He looks small beneath the bulging cap; somehow it accentuates his age and the empty chair beside him. Spotting a wedding ring on his finger, I wonder who should be sitting in that chair. My heart gives a painful hiccup, thinking of my grandfather, alone in the world now these thirty days, since my grandmother passed. He, too, is eating lunch alone today.

In a painful rush, it hits me: We’re losing them.

We’re losing them all, one by one, the whole World War II generation—“the greatest generation,” Tom Brokaw has called them—and they’re taking their memories with them.

My daughter wiggles and grunts, trying to launch herself out of my arms. I hold her tight, speared by worry: How can I help her understand the ones who came before? She won’t even remember her own great-grandmother. Soon there will be none left who remember firsthand: none who grew up as children of the Depression; who experienced Pearl Harbor as a personal horror; who huddled around radios, hanging on every word of FDR’s Fireside Chats; who lost friend after friend to war. And soon their stories will fade into hearsay and legend, distorted by retelling and mis-memory, made distant by time and generational differences.

I brush against the man’s table on our way to the playground, and my daughter’s escape efforts grow frantic. Seeing us struggle, the man stands to open the door for me. His back is crooked, his steps awkward, but somehow he stands tall. Gallant.

“Thank you,” I breathe, releasing my daughter into the glass-walled playroom. She giggles her delight and beelines for another toddler, nearly strangling her with a let’s-be-friends hug.

“I remember the days,” he says with a knowing smile.

I smile back and let the door swing shut. “How many children do you have?” I ask, knowing full well what I’m getting myself into. And that is all he needs: He is off, regaling me with descriptions—where they live, what they do, how often they visit. I keep one eye on my daughter, happily playing with her new friend, and with the other eye, I study mine: His grin, sunny and crinkled, topped off by pale blue eyes snapping with humor; his timeworn hands, fiddling with a rectangular object on the table.

“My wife was British, a war bride,” he says, his chest puffing out, as if this is—was, I correct myself, he said was—one of his favorite things about her. “I brought her back here with me after the war.” He reaches for the rectangle in front of him and flips it over. A man in uniform and a woman in white beam up at me from stone church steps, radiant even in grainy black and white. The picture is so similar to my grandparents’ 1946 wedding photo that for a moment I cannot breathe. I give my friend a nod of admiration for his bride, wrestling down a wave of sadness.

Frank and Jane, wedding day

“They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest,” Mr. Brokaw wrote in his book The Greatest Generation. “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, often hand to hand, in the most primitive conditions possible.”

And somehow, in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, many found love and clung to it. This man found love and made it last.

“I lost her two years ago,” he says. The blue eyes turn red-rimmed and glassy.

I want to reach out and squeeze his hand, but I don’t even know his name.

We’re losing them.

A thousand words clog my throat—My grandfather served, too. Flight engineer, US Army. Twenty-seven missions out of Saipan in B-29 bombers. Every time they flew, they almost ran out of fuel on the way back. His hearing was never the same. My grandmother and her sister shared the same wedding dress in the summer of 1946, war brides both. I spent the happiest summer nights of my teenage years in my grandparents’ house—they’d pull up a chair for me between their recliners, and we’d read for hours in companionable silence, eating peanuts and popcorn—but now my new friend is telling me where he met his wife, how she laughed, the way she burned his toast.

And I realize: Today is not my turn to tell stories. It’s his. And so I store my own history down inside, pull up a chair, and sit at his table. I pick up his picture, admire his bride, and let him take me back in time.

A muffled giggle escapes the play place. Taking my eyes off the man’s gnarled knuckles as they gesture mid-memory, I catch sight of my daughter’s happy curls bouncing. In my mind, I make her a promise: I will tell you the stories.

I will tell her about this man, the man from Chick-fil-A. I will tell her about his British bride, so adored, so missed, that her husband carried their wedding photo everywhere, years after her death, and showed it to strangers.

I will tell her about her great-grandfather—my grandfather, Frank: How when he was a boy the milkman rode a horse—a horse!—and delivered milk to back doors in glass bottles, and on icy mornings the tops would pop open. How when he grew up, he went to war, and although many of his friends didn’t make it home, he did. How one balmy spring night in 1946, when the whole world was just daring to live again, to love again, Frank fell in love with Jane, a spunky redhead with a laugh as big as New Jersey.

How they almost called off the wedding on account of that laugh, because one rain-soaked afternoon Frank got his finger trapped in an umbrella, and the madder he got, the harder Jane laughed, until finally he stalked away with the umbrella still clamped to his finger. How he eventually forgave her (it would make a great story for the grandkids, after all), and a few weeks later she walked down the aisle in Westfield, New Jersey, beaming over a bouquet of hydrangeas. How as newlyweds they were the first couple in their town to get a new car—no one had seen a new car for years—and everywhere they drove that car, a black Chevrolet Fleetline with silver trim, a crowd gathered.

Jane Guba 1946 bride

How they finally saved enough to move out of Frank’s parents’ home, and their neighbors helped them build their house, because that’s what neighbors did. How Frank shouted in his sleep for years, still haunted by nightmares of battle. How they moved to Florida and hoarded shoeboxes full of soap, because you never knew when a Florida hurricane, or another Depression, or wartime rations, might hit again.

How they had four daughters, twelve grandchildren, and friends beyond counting. How they grew old together and pulled up an extra chair and made space between them for their insecure granddaughter, and when she was with them she wasn’t lonely, she wasn’t insecure. How way back when, first they saved the world, and then they saved a girl.

My daughter won’t get it, I know—can we ever truly grasp the lives of those who came before? appreciate the extent of their sacrifices? fathom the depths of their losses, the heights of their joys?—but I hope when it’s my turn, she’ll pull up a chair and listen. I hope she’ll hang on every word of my stories. And not just my stories—her grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ stories, too.

Frank and Jane’s stories.

The Chick-fil-A man’s stories.

The stories of the great generation we lost when she was still learning words.

And maybe she’ll realize that their story is my story is her story, forever intertwined. And maybe we’ll help the greatest generation live on after all.

Frank and Jane with baby copy

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How to Shop at Target with a Toddler and No Money in 31 Easy Steps (A Not-So-Foolproof Guide)


how to shop at Target with a toddler

© 2015, Elizabeth Laing Thompson. A version of this article was first published on Scary Mommy’s The Mid .

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

1.Have a stern talk with yourself beforehand: I am only going to buy a package of coffee. Only. Coffee.

2. Take a child along. A 12-year-old boy dragged away from video games would do the trick, but the ideal choice is a toddler, preferably a potty-trainer in the thick of the Terrible Twos. (No longer have a toddler of your own? Borrow one from a beleaguered young mother—she’ll kiss your feet in gratitude.)

3. Enter Target. Feel something warm and tingly light up inside of you. Good thing you brought a toddler to keep you in check, because you recognize the symptoms: the beginnings of Target High.*

(*Target High: a euphoric state in which you gleefully buy everything you see at Target. Symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath, giddiness and compulsive credit-card swiping.)

4. Strap the child into a cart. She starts whining, a Toddler Time Bomb already ticking. Hand her a cereal bar to buy yourself eight minutes.

5. Decide to take the long route to the coffee aisle, to avoid the temptation of the home decor section. Right away, you realize: This was a mistake. You have to pass the purses on the right… your eye wanders. No! Force yourself to look straight ahead. But then you hit…

6. The shoe section. Feel yourself sloooooowing doooooown, your eyes skating across sandals, sneakers, and—ooh! clearance boots! Surely a quick look at clearance boots wouldn’t hurt. (Glance down at the toddler. Half a cereal bar to go.)

7. Leave the shoes sadly, because they didn’t have your size. Brush wistful fingers across a beaded sandal. Whisper a promise: “You, me, next paycheck…”

8. Walk away with purpose toward the—ooh wait! A happy red sign over the juniors’ tees shouts “Sale!”

9. Five foggy minutes later, you wake to find yourself in the family-size dressing room. You’re not sure how you got there, but your toddler is still in the cart, licking an oozing jelly blob, and your cart is piled high with 36 items from the juniors’ department.

10. Blink to clear your head. Well, since I’m already in here and the baby is happy, I might as well try on these things. For next time I get paid.

11. Ten minutes later, shuffle out, feeling like an enormous cow. Remind yourself you have not fit into juniors’ sizes since… well, there’s no need to count years. Hand the attendant 35 of the 36 items; ignore her death glare.

12. Wipe smashed cereal bar off the toddler’s face as you steer past the exercise clothes. Pause. Maybe if you bought some cute exercise clothes, you would be motivated to work out, and then you’d feel better about yourself the next time the juniors’ department has its way with you.

13. The Toddler Alarm sounds, shrieking, “Me go potty nooooow!”

14. Sprint to the bathrooms. When you get there, sucking wind, it’s too late. She’s soaked. As you’re changing her outfit, it occurs to you: She really could use another pair of pants… I mean, as long as we’re here…

15. On the way to the baby and toddler department, you justify this detour by mentally itemizing all of your children’s stained hand-me-downs, and by making a pact with yourself: This is just a walk-by. I will only stop if I see a sale sign.

16. Arrive at the baby and toddler section. Gasp with delight: the tutus, the lace, the floral raincoats! Your ears start to ring.

17. The toddler squeals, “Let gooooo!” (In toddler speak, this means she has spotted something from Frozen.) Still gawking at raincoats, you hand her a stuffed Olaf to keep her busy. She’ll scream when it’s time to leave and you take Olaf away, but right now, all that matters is those glorious raincoats.

18. Toss 18 toddler outfits into your cart in 3.6 seconds. Tell yourself you will make up your mind when you get to checkout.

19. Head toward checkout, past the organization department. Blink. Chevron-striped bins! Just the thing for the gazillions of cell phone and laptop cords floating around your house. Drool gathers in the back of your mouth. Really, the bins would be an investment in your home and your sanity, because they would keep the toddler from chewing on the older kids’ cords… Toss three bins into your cart. You’re feeling shaky now, slightly buzzed. It’s official: You have Target High.

20. Round the last corner. What’s on that end cap? Mismatched bowls that look like Anthropologie dishes! Just yesterday your son destroyed your last snack bowl in a science experiment. Snatch up a set of eight, your heart humming with happiness.

21. Glance down at the toddler, busily gnawing on Olaf’s carrot nose. Oh, good. That nose-munching will give you three more minutes, because you just spotted…

22. An adorable serving tray! Just last week you were telling your girlfriend you need one, and this one is only $12.99! Trays usually cost $30, so really, you’ll be saving money if you buy now. Into the cart it goes.

23. The toddler makes a gagging sound. Panicked, you dig half of Olaf’s nose out of her mouth. She starts screeching, full voice—the Toddler Time Bomb has gone off. The entire store turns to raise judgmental eyebrows at you. Time to go.

24. Place the screaming toddler in a football hold and jog to checkout, pushing the cart with your free arm, sparing only a side-glance for the shiny blur of kitchen appliances flying past.

25. Pause before getting in line, suddenly noticing that your cart is overflowing. Where did all this come from? I don’t remember grabbing a paisley broom and a set of decorative hooks!

26. Dig around in your purse, find a lollipop and hand it to the toddler, who stops crying and starts licking.

27. Pull out your phone and check your bank account balance. Gasp in dismay. There’s no way, I could have sworn…

28. Reload your bank app. Same pitiful number.

29. Stand there debating. You get paid in six days, which means if you don’t go out for Starbucks and you pack the kids’ lunches… you can afford the raincoat and two of the little bowls. Oh, and Olaf with his bitten-off nose. Now you have to buy Olaf. Poof goes your Target High.

30. Push the cart into the checkout line (past three other women, also staring unhappily at their smartphones). Mumble to the cashier, “Um, we changed our mind. We’ll just take the raincoat and the bowls and the snowman.”

31. Shuffle outside. Strap the toddler into her car seat. Realize you forgot to buy coffee.


If you liked this post—first, my sympathies, fellow Target High sufferer—but then, you might also enjoy:

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Want to share this post with a fellow victim of Target High? Thank you! Share here: 


The One She Needed to Write


dealing with infertility

Today’s post comes from my I-love-her-too-much-for-words baby sister, Alexandra Ghoman. (Who is not a baby anymore, but still.) Alexandra blogs at A Loves J about life as a not-so-newlywed, touching on topics as varied as faith, fashion, family, an adorable dog named Huckleberry, and the occasional semi-sarcastic guide to cruises. When she was still just a teenager, wise-beyond-her-years Alexandra was a great comfort to me during the years when we couldn’t get pregnant. I’m sorry to say I am now returning the favor. If you, or friends you know, are experiencing infertility, know this: You are not alone. God hears; God sees; God cares.

The One She Needed to Write

by Alexandra Ghoman

she’s here

she’s a woman caught between stages. she’s fixed somewhere between just married and happily ever after. she’s not sure who she is. she’s not sure who she’s becoming. she’s unrecognizable. she’s ever-changing. she’s ever the same. she’s defined by this. she’s undefined. she’s all the things. she’s none of them. there’s a chance she’s crazy.

she hurts

she feels dramatic. she hates that. she wants to pray. she cries instead. when she cries, it’s not soft and sweet. it’s snotty, red-faced, and audible. she feels embarrassed. but she feels a little better when she stops.

she aches

she goes on living. breathing in, breathing out. she listens to friends. she congratulates good news. she smiles. she laughs. she aches and she aches. she answers “fine.” she means it sometimes. other times, fine is a fine line. but overall, she’s fine.

she longs

she doesn’t want the moon. she doesn’t crave the stars. she daydreams of normal. she dreams of no meds, no shots, no incessant blood tests. she dreams of pink lines and plus signs, nausea and swollen ankles, booties and sleep-deprivation. she vows to savor. she vows to never complain. she makes promises she knows she can’t keep. she does it anyway.

she waits

nothing is bad. it’s more the absence of good. she has seen what could be. she has felt what might be. she wishes it came easy. she wonders if it’s her fault. she wonders if God knows, if God cares. she wonders what he’s doing up there. she keeps going. she keeps praying. she keeps going.

she wonders

she meditates on His promises. she wonders what it all means. she holds on for dear life. she rides the waves of uncertainty. she fixes her eyes on the Father. she paints his or her face in her mind. wondering what kind of special human is being prepared in the heavens. she thinks it must be someone special. someone she can’t wait to meet. someone she’s always known.

this is me

infertility

A and J

You can find Alexandra at A Loves J, on Instagram, and on Twitter


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On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love


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