The Greatest Generation

Last week, my Great Aunt Marie passed away.  She was only two weeks away from her 100th birthday.  On Saturday, I was a pallbearer at her funeral.  It was a sad day but I couldn’t feel too bad because she had an amazing life.  I think you are fortunate to live a long and healthy life like my great-aunt than the funeral is more of a celebration of a great life.  She was pretty healthy and lived on her own until about a year ago.  I hope we could all be so lucky.  Many people would do almost anything to live nearly half as long.

She was my grandfather’s oldest sister.  Her and my grandfather were 2 of the 11 children of my great grandparents, Severino and Amelia Lerda, two of their 11 children died before they turned one. Sadly, no one knows their names so most of the time people refer to the nine remaining members of my grandfather’s family.  My grandfather was the second youngest child and my Aunt Marie was the second oldest.  Out of the 11 siblings, I only had the chance to know Aunt Marie and Uncle Babe, who was the youngest children and hence called, Babe, for the baby.

My Uncle Babe was a pretty amazing guy, who fought in Korea.  He was the first person in my grandfather’s family to go to college, where he became an engineer.  The one project I remember my family talking about was that he worked on the Hubble Telescope.  He married the women of his dream and spent most of his life in California until she passed away in 1999.  That’s when he came back home to Pittsburgh and I got to know my Uncle Babe.

It’s been a little over three years since my grandfather passed away and Saturday brought back a lot of memories.  Babe, my grandfather, and Marie services were all at the same funeral home, church, and cemetery.    Almost their entire family is buried in the same cemetery on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.  Usually when we go out there I usually visit all of the grave sites.  To remember those who have come before me and had so little.  Saturday was sad but it made me think about something my grandfather used to always say.  He said, “I lived in my one of the best times to grow up.”  He started out with nothing and then eventually he had everything. His family had no indoor plumping, running water, and not much food or money.  He fought in Patton’s army in WWII entering Europe weeks after D Day and helping the Allied forces push through Europe towards Germany.  My grandfather came back from the war and got into the construction business with his father.  He eventually meet my grandmother, and they had four children, and built a house that represented the picturesque place to raise a family in the 60s and 70s.  My grandparents spent there entire lives in that home.  By the end of his life he had traveled all over the world, had plenty of money for retirement, sent a few kids to college, and lived as good of a life as anyone I’ve known.  He was content.  I don’t know too many people like that. He was one of my two heroes and I miss him dearly.

My Aunt Marie was born during WWI, and lived through the Great Depression and WWII then watched the world continue to change from events like the Civil Rights Movement, a man walking on the moon, Vietnam, and the end of the Cold War.  We used to laugh about her being extremely frugal.  It got to the point where you couldn’t take her out to dinner at a restaurant because she would want to take everything home with her.  If she came over people’s houses for a party she would always leave with more left overs than she could ever possibly eat.  I didn’t realize this at the time but it wasn’t frugality.  It was survival.  These were the scars of growing up during the Great Depression and being one of the oldest children who was expected to not only take care of herself but also her family.  I can’t imagine those times.  Starving, trying to stretch out your food so you’d have something to eat tomorrow, and thinking about where and how you were going to get your next meal.  It’s scary to think about but it also makes me appreciate what I have.

There are a lot of reasons why Americans refer to this generation as their greatest.  I’ve only listed a few of those here.  I feel fortunate I had to opportunity to get to know three people, just on my mother’s side, who were great examples of that lofty title.