Other Thoughts: The Greatest Generation to Gen X

I am sitting at my shiny desk in a brand new center of higher education contemplating what I am going through financially speaking, and I realize…

I’ve got it pretty good.

I have bills that are past due and rent that has to be paid next week, but on the whole…I have got more than many. Even if it is not as much as most.

So, I say a prayer of thanks to God for what has been provided and quietly ask for more to cover the light bill so they don’t come and take away my air conditioning. I can do without lights and the TV, but the AC in this heat laden drought…that I can not do with out.

In a previous post I have talked about my grandfather, and how I followed him around as a child. In our hours together I got to ask him all kinds of questions about how he grew up and the impact it had on his existence. He didn’t know the great depression was happening because he was too poor to know the difference. He was born and grew up in Catarina, TX. Don’t worry, you won’t find it on a map. It is a town that even today has fewer than 1,000 residents. My grandfather, his brother, and their parents lived in a tent. They cooked on an open fire, and my greatgrandfather worked the stockyards for King Ranch for $5 a week. My grandfather could kill jackrabbits and sell their skins for $1 each. At age 10, that bought him lunch, movie, and snacks for him and his brother.

This is only one of the hundreds of stories I was blessed to hear growing up. My sister and I living with our grandparents in a retirement community were surrounded by people willing to share their stories, and I was only too eager to listen.

My grandmother grew up in San Antonio. She was born into an upper middle class family. Her father worked with city council and she was surrounded by a tight knit extended family. So close that we celebrated the 100 family reunion last December with about 100+ of our still close family members. Her family had a house, car, lived and worked in the city a short walk out of downtown. The effect of the great depression was such that instead of getting to spend what they wanted at the grocery store they had to create a budget and manage their finances a little closer.

These two tales of childhood are so different you can’t imagine that they lived in the same era. During World War II, my grandfather chomping at the bit to join up, but was way too young and didn’t have quite the audacity of Audie Murphy. My grandmother was too young to notice. By the 50s my grandmother lived like any upper middle class girl did. She worked and drove her own car, and did what ever her parents would let her do. My grandfather was old enough to join the Marines, and did at 18. During the 50’s he was fighting a non-existant war with China.

Same eras, different stories, which leads me to my friend Alec. We grew up in the same community and went to the same high school, and had many of the same classes together. But our stories are so different you wouldn’t know our pasts were so similar.

Today in a group on facebook called, “What’s next?” He wrote this short passage and posed the question at the end:

As a member of Gen X (or is it Y? so many labels…) I’ve only experienced the “Greatest Generation” through reading and the occasional conversation afforded me by my profession. It seems to me that the thing that made them great is the adversity they had to (and did) overcome. WWI, The Great Depression, WWII, and the Korean War all seem to have left an indelible mark on that generation.

My question is this – has our society via our elected officials robbed my generation of the adversity we need in order to build the required character to face the challenges of the 21st century? I’ve heard over and over that we are a generation that feels entitled and I don’t entirely disagree. Would it have been beneficial for us to struggle through a fully collapsed economy and to have persevered to the other side? Our Grandparents and Great Grandparents survived, thrived, and left this country in better shape through their hardships. I think we could as well, assuming we were allowed to experience the motivation of true adversity. Lacking that I suspect we’ll continue to feel entitled to Life, Liberty and Happiness. We might miss the glory of the Pursuit.

I couldn’t agree more that our forefathers lived in conditions that were adverse compared to what we call adverse today, but still it’s about perspective.

True adversity. What is it in today’s environment? I grew up poor. I was rich in family, love, and close friends, but was not someone given things for no reason. I had my birthday and Christmas, but otherwise the cash wasn’t free flowing like many people I grew up with. I learned that you get nothing without hard work. I helped at a friends resort at 14, because I wanted a little spending money of my own. On weekends my senior year of high school I worked double shifts on Saturdays AND Sundays, getting close to 40 hours a week at a restaurant on top of a full load at school and extracurricular activities.

Growing up, as my grandparents did, they felt that if we wanted something other than what they were using as well, we had to pay for it ourselves. That included makeup, products to tame our wild curly hair, clothes beyond what we needed for school, and any sort of shopping that could be done if we went with our friends to the mall. I didn’t go to the mall in junior high and high school unless my friend’s mom took us; and then I still couldn’t do much but watch them buy things.

As I graduated high school I was left to my own devises as to what to do with myself. I was left utterly confused and couldn’t figure out what to do. For almost 19 years I was told what to do and when and then nothing. “We think you need to do this, but aside from helping with a place to live, we can’t really do anything.”

So, I had to work and I started school, but then I had to work more to cover more bills because life changed. By 2004, when I should have been graduating college I was working a lot and looking for a real job. My first “real job,” in 2005, paid me $8 an hour, and for the first time since I had started work I got weekends off. Bonus!

As to whether I felt entitled as a teenager, I would say yes. I thought I was entitled to do all of the things that I wanted but without focus and no true passion. I thought I would be given a bunch of money to put toward college immediately upon graduation. It never even crossed my mind that no one had saved a dime because every one was always pushing college. Go to school. Go to school. Go to school.

When it came time I was so petrified by the process that I gave up before I got started. I was terrified and lost and confused.

Over the last 11 years, I haven’t felted entitled. I haven’t felt that anyone owed me. I haven’t been able to lament the demise of the slacker generation. I have worked. Sometimes worked my tail off doing two or three shifts a day. I have faced eviction, no lights, no gas for heat, and life without a car. I have tried to make ends meet even though there isn’t anything in the bank. I have managed to provide a weeks worth of groceries for a family of four with just $12.35.

I believe whether we have faced adversity or not depends on which side of the economic circle you are on. I believe what you do with what you are given is in your own hands. I believe that through God’s blessing the things I am passionate about and the dreams I have will come to fruition. I believe that it is up to us to learn the tricks of the trade from our forefathers and persue life, liberty and happiness. But these things do not equal the cash to pay for the things of life that you need and want.

Life is a gift from God.

Liberty is a battle we fight for every day.

Happiness is a choice you make every time you are blessed enough to wake up in the morning.


6 thoughts on “Other Thoughts: The Greatest Generation to Gen X

  1. Susan Marie says:

    Megan, you are blessed to realize that life’s happiness does not depend on material things, but I do pray that someday you won’t have to struggle quite so hard! Our nation was prosperous in the years following WWII, when my generation was coming along, and our parents (your grandparents) wanted their children to have a better life than what they had. I remember my mother telling me she went back to work when my older brother was around 8 or so, because he wanted a new bicycle.

    We can only speculate what brought on this attitude of entitlement. It certainly doesn’t do our children any good to give them everything they want, or all the newest toys and gadgets. Perhaps this recession will do our society some good – trials and tribulations are what strengthen our faith, and bring us closer to God. We can all make something of ourselves, no matter what our situations!

    • Megan DaGata says:

      I’m praying too, but while I pray for creature comforts, there are many people I know with much larger problems. Can you say a prayer for my pastor today? He is having surgery for cancer and we are hoping they are able to remove it all.

  2. DesiValentine says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Happiness IS a choice that has little to do with wealth or circumstance. Our lives are what we make them. I could not agree with you more.

    I don’t pray often, but I will pray for your pastor’s recovery. Cancer is such a horrible, horrible thing….And hope does help.

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