What does a personal life wave mean to you?
A Defining Wave
In my childhood, when we were driving, my father talked to me about family history and specifically his history. I’m was not sure why. I came to think it may have been because he had learned not to share it with most people. Here’s why.
Who Came Before
Two of my great grandfathers fought in the Confederate army. As it turns out, what was passed down was that they “fought in” but did not fight for the confederacy. My father’s people owned no slaves and lived in poverty in central Mississippi near the Alabama border. When the war started, armed men came through the countryside and demanded service. To these poor men it meant they left wives and children behind to tend the modest farms. But they had no choice. Neither men were wounded and were able to return to their families. But life remained hard. At a young age these revelations left me with an understanding of how life can be complex and unfair.
Then My Father
My father was born in 1898. His mother died when he was five and his father suffered terrible arthritis. His father did what he could to support his family but my father and his brother had to step up to help at an early age. When they turned eight they went to work in a sawmill leading mules. Gradually they pieced together an education.
The message from my grandfather to my father was “get out of here, son. There’s no future for you.” With his father’s blessing he saved his pennies and bought a suit and a cardboard suitcase. In 1917 he boarded a train to Washington, D.C. and took a job in the War Department during World War I. In time he went on to college at Columbia University and to medical school there. Interestingly, he learned that a lot of people did not want to hear this story.
A Great Wave
This was a period of a long wave of one kind. Having suffered a devastating civil war, the echoes of which still vibrate to this day, our country came out into the world to enter World War I. There followed a burst of energy in the Roaring Twenties, a dive into the Great Depression and another world war. My father, then a surgeon, wanted to join and help. They declined, feeling he was needed on the homefront.
These wars shaped our country in ways we could not foresee. We were the only major power left standing at the end of World War II and our young men returned, not to the farms, but to industry, setting the stage for a very different wave in which I grew.
Saturday mornings I listened to stories on the radio. One morning they interrupted the story to announce that a man by the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died. I went downstairs and asked my mother who he was. I was to learn that this time, at the end of World War II, I was thrust into a very different wave from the one my father rode.
I owe my father a debt of thanks. Not just for the fact that he was a good father but because he shared his background with me in detail. I took it in and it has a lot to do with my perceptions about life and the meaning of what I see. There is richness, there is tragedy, love and horror and so much more. But fundamental to me was the recognition that things are never as they seem, that we live on the cusp of reality and that speculation is indicated as we seek the meaning of events shaping our lives and the lives of others. The elements in this wave led me to psychology and the lure of speculative fiction.
What wave or waves are you perceiving and have you ridden?