Many of us have living grandparents who have lived through and remember some of the most significant events of the last century. A good example here would be my grandmother, Mary Thomas. Grandma died ten years ago, but the history she lived through and taught me about from the observer's
perspective was pretty astounding.
Grandma was born in Indiana in 1906, to a farmer and his former schoolteacher wife, just three months after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Before she was three months old, a tsunami struck Hong Kong, taking over ten thousand lives. Before she was four months old S.O.S was declared the international distress signal. On her first Christmas eve, the first radio broadcast was made. During her first year of life the tuberculosis vaccine was developed, the President of the United States made the first out of country trip by a sitting president (to view the Panama Canal under construction), and the city of San Francisco again made headlines when it came close to sparking an international diplomatic incident by ordering segregated schools for Japanese students.
During my grandmother's childhood and adolescence, Albert Einstein expounded his theory of relativity, World War I was fought, the October revolution occurred, bringing about the rise of communism in the world, the Titanic sank, and the great Influenza epidemic ran rampant through the world. Among the flu epidemic's enormous number of victims: my great grandfather. History touches home.
As my grandmother progressed into adulthood, the first working television was created. Charles Lindbergh made his amazing flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Penicillin was discovered. Southern Ireland became an independent nation. The United Kingdom saw its first Labour party government, flappers did the Charleston and the Lindy hop, and Prohibition made a lot of criminals into very rich men. Artistically speaking, the Art Deco and Surrealist movements saw their advents.
As a young woman, Grandma watched the headlines as the jet engine was invented. She blinked in surprise when the planet Pluto was found, nuclear fission discovered, and the death of capitalism was proclaimed. In horror, she was witness to Joseph Stalin's murderous Great Purge, saw Adolph
Hitler rise to a position of power in Germany, married my grandfather, watched World War II erupt, and gave birth to my father and my uncle. She saw Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz when they were freshly released films.
As a woman in the World War II era, she worked in a factory making ball bearings, joining so many American women as they emulated Rosie the riveter to help keep America producing what it needed for the war effort and to keep the Americans at home taken care of. She watched as her husband sailed off to war as an officer in the U.S. Navy. She was one of the lucky ones who watched him come safely into harbor again, too.
She saw the creation and deployment of the first nuclear weapon, used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only instance ever of nukes being used as a weapon of mass destruction. She was disgusted. She saw the creation of the nation of Israel, and the constant low level warfare that has raged over it ever since.
Grandma lived through the invention of the computer. the Rise and Fall of Communism in the Eastern bloc, the first space flights, the day that Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Elvis Presley, the psychedelic haze of the 1960s, the Richard Nixon administration and its Watergate scandal, the Reagan era, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and Gulf War v.1.10. While my grandmother was living, UNIX and C were created.
She was alive when the Berlin Wall was erected, and watched with tears of joy in her eyes as it was torn down. She lived to see the births of my daughters, her first and second great-grandchildren.
The point of this listing of the events that occurred during one woman's lifetime is that far too often we younger generations tend to close our ears to our older folks because we have no patience to listen to them recounting their memories. In so doing, we miss out on so much that we could learn from these living history books. When I sat down and really listened to what Grandma had to tell me, it was fascinating stuff.
If, instead of closing our ears and our minds, we opened them, we might learn something of worth. We can see history through the eyes of another human being, with a personal slant to it. It isn't all about dry facts and figures, names and dates. History is alive. History might be sitting right there in the other room, watching the soap opera du jour.
Why not go and find out?