Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Elderly...Great Resources of Catholic Identity and Memories!

The topic of the elderly in society immediately draws my mind to a place of positive memories of my grandparents, great-grandparents and even my great-great grandmother. I was extremely fortunate to have experienced these individuals in my life. They were and are sources of inspiration that defines the texture of the fabric of society. The elderly among us are vast resources of knowledge, experiences and insights that should be cherished by all of us. After all, we are all potentially members of the silver-haired gentry that will hopefully contribute more pleasant memories of our generation to future posterity. The role of the elderly in our modern society is usually misconstrued as one that is antiquated as well as unrelated to modern experiences. As is the case, most of our elderly are considered to be rusting relics of times gone bye. This critical lack of understanding and appreciation for our senior brothers and sisters really provides a denial point of our own humanity as well as our own mortality.
We as a society need to revere and comprehend the elderly in society, not as persons that are no longer viable in mind and body; but as a national resource that is to be actively engaged for their expertise and opinions. After all whatever activity in which we are involved today they have done. These ladies and gentlemen are the senior sages on which the foundations of our modern life and industry are built. The elderly in our society have persevered through two world wars, the rise and fall of communism, the construction and destruction of the Berlin Wall as well as the arrival and demise of the Beatles. Our elderly ran the spectrum of all age groups as they fought in global conflicts, experimented with the Hula-hoop, protested the Vietnam War in the sixties and endured the leisure suit. Not only have they persisted and endured but survived social, economic and political upheaval but surprisingly lived to tell the tale. During their lifetimes in addition to dealing with a chaotic and changing world they had time to raise families, provide college educations for their children and continue civilized life for all of us to appreciate and understand. Their counsel should not be taken lightly. Their experiences are the equivalent of platinum ingots to those of us still striving to senior stage of our lives. We forget they were there when Kennedy was shot, man landed on the moon and Woodstock retreated into a muddy, distant memory. The elderly in our society taught us how to laugh, live, work, worship and love throughout all types of experiences and occupations, from the blue-collar worker to the Wall Street wizard. They quite simply were younger versions of ourselves with the same hopes, dreams and aspirations for themselves and their families. Both fortunately and unfortunately time continued on and now we have the question of the elderly in society as if we had invented the wheel.
When I think of the collective experiences that my grandparents encountered it overloads my mind. They worked hard, provided for their families and gave all of us the future we now call the present. The issue is how we can help these now gentle mavericks of society enjoy full inclusion in our modern society. The elderly are pillars of society. We should do all that is possible to enhance their lives and preserve their experiences. Simple things will accomplish this goal. Sit with a World War II era senior. Ask them about life during that time; get them to explain their lives and experiences during this chaotic period of history. Have them identify individuals in old photos, recount their life experiences, record them, photograph them and write it down. You are dealing with living history. When they are gone, the photographs will remain nameless faces of times and events gone by.
Foster your children and grandchildren to get to know someone that is now elderly. Ask them to teach your children about their lives, as well as have your children teach Grand mom and Grand pop how an iPod works, and how to burn a CD. Believe me the elderly can tell everyone about that vinyl disk we used to call an LP.
Educate a child that growing old is the natural progression of being human. We will all get to be the silver-haired fox hopefully with the right mentors as our guides. And finally in our society we need to show appreciation for the elderly in our society in some small manner. It could be opening a door, helping out with a heavy package or not using profanities when following a senior on the highway. Check on seniors that live alone, and invite them to share a meal with your family. We will all be in their places at some point in our lives. When we come to appreciate their lives and experiences our own appreciation of what is important will focus our views through their eyes and their experiences. Remember the elderly in our society have not only travelled the road on which we drive...they built it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Memorial Day...Gray's Ferry Style!

Memorial Day is the recognized beginning of the summer season in the United States. It marks the beginning of summer activities such as visits to the beach, walks on the Wildwood Boardwalk or just taking a long weekend to cope with the heat and great weather of summer. Growing up in Gray’s Ferry, I remember fondly Memorial Day being celebrated with the echo of “Taps” being played in the churchyard at Saint Gabriel. Veterans would assemble a parade from the multiple VFW Posts in the neighborhood and march off to the churchyard to present the American colors and lay a wreath at the priest’s graves in the local parishes. Usually the assembled Veterans would squeeze into their uniforms from World War II, Korea or Vietnam. I do remember some World War I veterans living still in Saint Gabriel Parish in the early 1960’s and 1970’s. They were really the last of the Great War generation.
Mournfully the sounds of military, “Taps” would conclude the wreath laying ceremony. What I most remember however are the three piercing volleys of gunfire that constituted the 21-gun salute. As children, we thought it was exciting to watch the gunfire and the ceremonies. Sometimes there would even be some competition to retrieve the brass cartridges discharged from the World War II vintage rifles. It was considered a great thing to pick up one of the spent cartridges and a keepsake to put with all of the other mementos of childhood. Most importantly, as I got older the piercing volley of gunshots recalled the great sacrifices of human life wars have cost our American society. Regardless of what activities take place on Memorial Day, it is still a solemn remembrance of those lost in our American military conflicts since the American Revolution in 1776. We cannot and should not forget any of these casualty’s that provide the foundation for our Republic’s freedom.
I remember the Gray’s Ferry Naval Home on Memorial Day as well. It was decorated with banners of red, white and blue to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday. Some of the residents at the home were retired Veterans from the Spanish-American War. They knew this day as Decoration Day and red-poppies were the symbol of their commemoration. You do not see many Veterans’ groups selling red poppies any more. The tradition is something part of a long past American tradition. Unfortunately, Memorial Day is not an event to honor the country’s war dead, but just an excuse for a long weekend and harried travel. Perhaps my reflective attention on this holiday is part of being a middle-aged male. Now I really appreciate the sacrifices made by generations of men and women in our American military forces. These sacrifices allow me to honestly write this column, remember these solemn events and recall their ultimate sacrifices of life for human liberty.
Block parties usually followed the traditional wreath laying ceremonies in Gray’s Ferry. If you are reading this article and do not know what a “block” is, then you need to get more in touch with your Gray’s Ferry roots. Block parties exhibited the best possible socialization available in our ethnically focused Irish-Catholic enclave of Gray’s Ferry. The celebrations brought the neighborhood people together by communally sharing in the preparation work for the party, providing the food and liquid libations and the neighborhood entertainment. Usually the entertainment came from the antics of all of the neighbors as they continued to keep the refreshments on tap …cold. We did not need trips to Morey’s Wild Water Kingdom in those days…we had the cooling and refreshing water of the fireplug to bring down the temperatures. There is nothing like the sloshing of wet Chuck Taylors along the concrete and asphalt of a Gray’s Ferry Street! Hot dogs and water ice never quite taste the same either as they did when cooked over an open fire in the heart of the inner city. Of course, we did not know Gray’s Ferry was in the inner city in those days…we thought it was the entire existence of the City
This weekend when you are backed up on the Garden State Parkway or sitting in traffic waiting to get to the Shore, think about the Memorial Day celebrations in Gray’s Ferry when you were growing up. Perhaps with those thoughts we can all instill in our families the real memorial going on here. Namely, a memorial of American patriots that lost their lives in service to their country.
Happy Memorial Day! Does anyone have a wrench for the fire hydrant?