Though some have changed…
…Some have changed a lot. Fortunately, we still have some men and women from the Greatest Generation to remind us of what was important then. To remind us what is still important now. They are the men and women that give us a definition of what has come to be one of my favorite words, perspective. They are men like Mr. Harland.
My week began on Monday. I know that Sunday is supposed to be the beginning of the week, but somehow, for me, Sunday is always the sweeping grand finale full of church and family and relaxing afternoons and the beginning of the week is Monday. Most Mondays I am distracted with thoughts of school preparations and what I will teach those eager little minds that have been put in my charge. Okay, maybe not so eager, but still my responsibility, and so my thoughts are full of students and classes on Mondays which, at my age, can be pretty distracting.
This particular Monday, was the beginning of a very busy week. Aside from school preparations and classes, we were hosting two luncheons, one birthday party for my 86 year old Dad, and attending a “Faces in History” school presentation in which our grandson, Sawyer, was to be George W. Bush. A busy week, I realized maybe a little too busy when on that Monday morning while thinking of all that would be happening, I put a scoop of my dog’s canned dog food into my breakfast smoothie. It was disgusting. Fortunately, I did not drink it. Not a good beginning, but I knew Mr. Harland was coming to class that Tuesday and that thought made everything better!
Mr. Harland is the grandfather of, D, one of my middle school history students. D introduced me to Mr. Harland through his Genealogy Project paper, a 3 – 4 page paper that he got a little carried away with. D’s “paper” ended up being a small “book” at about 50 pages. When I read it, I understood why. It was the story of of D’s history and that included his grandfather, Mr. Harland. After reading D’s “paper,” I asked if Mr. Harland could come share with our middle school history class. He did. He was so good, I asked him to come to my high school history class. I admit I read them the riot act before he came, but soon realized I didn’t have to.
Mr. Harland is almost 84 and stands as straight as an arrow. He began with perspective. He was born in 1937, that meant that when he was a boy, some Civil War veterans and Orville Wright (of the Wright Brothers) were still alive. My students were intrigued. When he brought out some of the toys from his childhood, he had a captive audience.
He had a few of his toys from before WWII. A motorcycle that was made of cast iron that landed on my desk with a thud. A sturdy metal car made with rubber wheels that was still perfectly intact despite its age.Then he brought out a toy car made during the war. It was a tinny little car with wheels made of cardboard because all of the rubber and good metal went to the war. He spoke to my pandemic era students of lives being changed by rationing and everybody doing their part for the war effort. He shared about his days of being let loose in a neighborhood where everybody knew and looked out for everybody else. Days when moms were home all day and communicated to their children by blowing a whistle, each mom having her own unique signal and every kid knowing what each mom’s signal was. He shared his special decoder rings that he’d sent away for and the stock from his Red Rider BB gun. He shared his life.
Personally, my favorite part of his story was the story of where he lived. Mr. Harland grew up in a two story home. His aunt and his grandfather lived on the second floor. His parents and their seven children, one of which was Mr. Harland, lived on the first floor. Both floors had one bathroom and two bedrooms. One bathroom, two bedrooms, nine people. And then he asked the obvious question. “Where did we all sleep?” His parents had one bedroom, some siblings had the other, a few of his siblings slept in the attic, and that left Mr. Harland. His “bedroom” was a roll-away cot in the living room that was folded and stored each day in his parents bedroom. And then he shared my favorite part, he went to sleep every night with his Dad sitting six feet away from him, reading the newspaper and listening to the radio. It was nostalgic and my kids, whose minds I am always eager to fill, loved every minute of it. He ended with some of the best advice, enjoy your childhood, do everything with passion, and realize that choices made now will determine how you live later.
I often think about the times and places that I remember. Life, even a life born well after WWII, seems very different compared to life now. And though I sometimes think it, not once did Mr. Harland say that those were the “good old days.” Not once did he give any indication that he thought those days were better, only that they were different. Perspective. It can be a wonderful thing. It is a very big deal!