Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Word to My Mothers: A Tribute (Part II)

Annie’s Legacy
As I thought about how to properly close this tribute to my Mother, I wanted to dwell on what I feel her legacy actually was, both to me as her son and to everyone else who knew her so much better than I.

It wasn’t hard to determine that probably the single most significant thing she ever did, apart from bearing five sons and being a wonderful wife to my Dad for nearly 23 years, was a single speech that she delivered the day she graduated from Anderson High School.

She was the keynote speaker for the Anderson Class of 1937. And her speech, entitled, “Should We Pity Our Grandchildren” was so profound and prophetic, that the Anderson Herald newspaper re-printed a transcript of it 41 years later, on June 2, 1978, with the following Editor’s Note:
The late Anne (…) delivered an address at the 1937 Anderson High School Commencement program that brought a hush over the crowd for the insight and clear thinking of a high school senior. By reading her address and reflecting on the events of the 41 years since its delivery, we believe our readers will benefit from it.

As you read it, please keep in mind that this speech predates WWII, the Atom bomb or nuclear weapons, mass commercial air travel, television and computers. I think you’ll agree my Mother was both incredibly profound in her assertions and accurate in her predictions about life in the next millennium.

The Anderson High School Senior Keynote Address of 1937
A magazine of national circulation not long ago published an account of an American aviator who flew from New York City to Logan, Utah, in eight hours. Fifty years ago this man’s grandfather had made the same journey by prairie schooner and it took him eight months.

From eight months to eight hours is characteristic of the increase of the tempo of our lives as well as the efficiency of its mechanical contrivances in the short span of half a century.

Who would dare to guess what the next 50 years holds for us? How would you like to live in a glass house? Or have your food served to you by mechanical robots? Or swallow a hearty meal condensed into one pellet? Today we may laugh at such fantasies; tomorrow they may be realities, even commonplace.

Therefore the question arises, should we pity our grandchildren? Physically it appears that our grandchildren won’t need our pity. They will have further mastered nature through science. To them, recreation will be a fine art.

They will not fear the minor operations on the human body that today cause so many deaths. They will know how to live better, how to eat to preserve their health; they may even master those dreaded foes of mankind — tuberculosis and cancer. In a word, on the physical and recreational side, we see a picture of life for our grandchildren more same, more wholesome, and more enjoyable than we, in the present generation know.

Certainly our grandchildren are by no means to be pitied for any lack of the comforts, conveniences and luxuries of life. Our scientists have furnished for each of them the magic lamp of Aladdin, which far surpasses the dreams of the Arabian Nights.

When the steam engine was first invented, a member of the British Parliament said that someday a man might be able to eat his breakfast in Harrisburg, Pa., and his supper in the city of Philadelphia. Very recently men have traveled in comfort and reasonable security from Germany to New Jersey in 81 hours.

In a few years our grandchildren will be able to go to China with the same ease and comfort and perhaps the same time it takes us to go to Chicago.

However if our grandchild doesn’t like to travel, he won’t have to do so. Even though he lives in a hut in the wilderness he can bring the world to his door as he tunes in the great voices and magnificent music to pass away his time. No doubt he’ll be able to touch a button and see a picture of his friend on the other side of the world.

For physical welfare, conveniences, travel, for luxury as yet undreamed of, our grandchildren will accept these things as commonplace; therefore we may congratulate rather than pity those who are to take our places in the world of tomorrow.

So far the negative seems to have had the better of this question. Is there a case for the affirmative; Is there something wrong in this scientific and social and industrial Paradise?

Let us consider war — the greatest menace to collective living that overshadows mankind. International disorder brought about by war is the most disastrous of all types of social and moral disorganization. During the World War of recent painful memory, 15 million of our young men were killed. What is to be the outlook of our grandchildren if they cannot solve this problem any better than we, their elders have done.

The next war will be a war of machinery and chemicals. Because the means of defense have not kept up with the ghastly powers of destruction, we have practically eliminated such a thing as defensive warfare. The only defense in the next war will be a quick offensive, probably without any declaration of war at all.

Is there no better hope than that each nation should load its suffering people with unbearable taxes, should have every plant a unit of military production, every businessman a potential soldier, every able-bodied preacher trained to step from pulpit to camp, with the first roll of the drum? Then, God Pity Our Grandchildren!

And what about accidents? This modern generation couldn’t do without the automobiles, trains, buses and other vehicles we now have, but let’s take a look at the death rate.

From the National Safety Council publication, we find that an American is killed every six minutes! The total deaths for 1935 alone were 36,100, and the total for the last 14 years from 1922 through 1935 was 379,182. We shall certainly have to pity our grandchildren if this death rate isn’t curbed.

Then crime? How will our grandchildren and their children deal with this complex problem that is demoralizing our nation? We as American citizens are becoming more and more concerned about this problem.

Many writers of “popular” articles on crime have accused us, justly or unjustly, of being the most criminal of all nations. We can’t question the fact that crime is costing us hundreds of millions of dollars each year and the cost, rather than decreasing, is increasing at an alarming rate.

In addition to war, accidents and crime, our grandchildren will have to face the great problems of unemployment and poverty. About 25 percent of our people live in poverty, and of the 25 percent, from three to five percent are paupers.

Estimates of unemployment run from 3.5 million to 7 million. This great problem is the cause of a great deal of our crime, our suicides, our heartaches, and our discontent. If we don’t do something about poverty and unemployment, what can we expect of our grandchildren?

Now since we are aware of some of the problems that will confront our grandchildren, we should make it our goal to get at the bottom of this social maladjustment. In order to find the solution, perhaps we should place greater emphasis on social progress. If man doesn’t learn to control these great material inventions more effectively the very civilization he has created could be destroyed. If this happens, then God Pity Our Grandchildren!

* * * * *

There's no telling how many people remembered and were inspired by that speech, both when it was originally given and years later when it was reprinted in the paper. So that is most certainly a part of her legacy.

Annie was, in the words of her younger sister, Lee, “so full of life, so vibrant, so fun-loving — nothing held her back.”

As I mentioned before, Annie was extensively involved throughout her youth in theater, as both an actor and director of plays in high school, her church and in community productions.

“Annie was a superb director. She demanded perfection and got it. She never put on a bad play.” Aunt Lee went on to tell of one play my Mom was directing in which the lead came down with the measles the night before the opening performance. Annie decided to play the part herself. Lee stayed up until 4AM feeding her lines, and that night she performed them flawlessly.

“Annie could memorize her lines with absolutely no effort…I have never in my life seen such a mastery of concentration.”

She was a “beautiful dancer,” had numerous boyfriends but didn’t marry until she was 26, which back in those days was rapidly approaching “old maid” territory. I guess she was just waiting for the right man to come along.

And he did.

My Dad and Mom got married following Dad’s return from WWII on December 16, 1945. They were four months shy of of their 23rd wedding anniversary when she died in 1968.

The young woman in the Senior Class photo, who lit up the stage, and the life of everyone she touched? That was my Mom, a woman whom I never knew, yet feel so close to now as I write these words.

It’s a little strange, to study one’s own Mother as some kind of historical figure. I knew her, but I didn’t know her. I touched her, but I never felt her. I’ve learned from her, but I never had the opportunity to be taught by her.

Her legacy I believe is one of love, vitality and optimism, which she left to me and my brothers to be sure, but moreover, to everyone who received the smile or kind word that were her constant trademark during the functional years of her life.

So thanks Mom.

I’ll seeya in Heaven.

We’re gonna have a lot to talk about...

Next: Maxine
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