This I Have Learned – Pondering

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

I sometimes think about:

My grandparents. My maternal grandparents perished in 1919, from the flu pandemic. My paternal grandmother died in 1937, but my paternal grandfather lived until 1966. Not having the connection to one’s grandparents is tragic. Luckily, I wrote a letter to my paternal grandfather from college and, my aunt related, he loved receiving it. Just the thought of my thinking of him made his day! Having grandparents is a gift beyond explanation and now I understand why people who have grandchildren are so enamored with them.

My great aunts and great uncles. When I was younger, and in my teenage years, I considered my great aunts and uncles as people in my life. Sadly, I never thought about the lives they led, where they went to school, the jobs they held, their aspirations, their thoughts. How I wish I had taken more interest in them so that I could have captured their wisdom.

My aunts and uncles, who lived through WWII. How difficult that time must have been. Three of my maternal uncles served in the war; one is buried in France. One became a homeless person and an alcoholic in the streets of Chicago. He died without anyone to take care of him. The other became a postal worker in New Jersey. One of my paternal uncles survived the war, but it haunted him until he died. It was this latter uncle who shared with us in his 80s that he had been given the Bronze Star, because he had captured five Nazi soldiers. Sadly, my uncles who served died prior to the publication of Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation.

My parents. Having lived post-Great Depression, my mother and father struggled during the early years of their marriage. My father was in the three C’s to bring income into their household. My parents never spoke about the rough years, only to say that, because money was scarce, they ate lots of lard and onion sandwiches. The sacrifices my parents made for my three brothers and me cannot be overstated. My parents worked hard to ensure that we were taken care of.

(Some of) My high school classmates who, in retrospect, seemed lost during high school. As I look back, I remember students who were, quite frankly, not destined to go to college, nor to have an enduring career. I wish that I could have recognized their hurt at being left behind in a system that rewards popularity. How much these students must have suffered during the fragile years of high school and of being left behind. (For the record, I was not part of the “in crowd.”)

I suppose it’s time to ponder the saying, “With age comes wisdom.”

This I have learned.