During the Great Depression when jobs were scarce, my Granddaddy McKee applied to be a postal service employee, or in those days, what they simply called “the mailman.” By the standards of his day, he was considered “unhealthy” because according to the government’s official guidelines, he was four pounds underweight. Never to be deterred, Granddaddy showed the family trait of “self-determination” — often mistaken as “stubbornness” and on his way to the exam, choked down four or five pounds of bananas. He got the job and thus secured another good family story of perseverance in the face of doom and gloom.
The coronavirus pandemic is going to be our time to write the story for future generations. Will they say, “my parents were scared to death and my mom fell apart,” or will they tell their children how we worked like crazy to hold our families together while we found peace and strength through faith?
Little eyes are watching and remembering. They are completing the pages of their own story to tell generations yet to come. Who was the restaurant owner who gave them a free lunch when their mom lost her job at the hotel? Who was the teacher who called each student to make sure they were OK? Who was the neighbor who left books and games on their doorstep?
Although different in many ways, both The Great Depression and the current pandemic share elements of shaping the confidence and story of the children who will remember being at home with no school schedules and watching their parents remain home with no work. Do we want them to remember how organized, fun and strong we were, or will they someday tell their children how their home functioned under a cloud of dread?
When the virus clears and a cure is found, how will we pull each other out of economic distress? Will we show compassion to those who are weak; the children, the grieving and the damaged business owners? Rebuilding brings new opportunities and it isn’t so bad when we help one another. The children, not only in our families but throughout the entire community, will be watching for signs of kindness and strength. They will remember the helpers.
From preschoolers who hear everything to those in college who want to discuss everything, they need to be able to sleep in peaceful confidence as we protect them with a blanket of hope.
Providing for his new wife and planning ahead for future children was my grandfather’s goal which made his sacrifice bearable. When he walked three miles into town, sorted the mail, then walked his entire route before walking home again, it was the price of doing the right thing. The bunch of bananas he forced himself to eat before the exam was only the start of his dogged determination to provide for his yet-to-be family of the future. And now, his story is my story that I tell my children. It’s a story of how my grandfather took care of me before he ever knew me.
What will your story be?
This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press REsiger, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.