What Would Your Ancestors Think?

In trying to deal with the stress and changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the challenges my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents faced in their lives. Reflecting on what they experienced, and survived, has helped me view the current situation in a better perspective. It has also made me feel more positive about how I am handling it. I’d like to share some thoughts with you in case it might help you as well.

My parents went through the Great Depression and World War II. My father’s father left the family when my father was 12. My father took on the responsibility of financially caring for his mother and six siblings by running the farm and saving enough money out of each milk check to pay the taxes so that they didn’t lose the farm. That was during the Great Depression. During World War II there was rationing of food and supplies. Family and friends fought in the war. Life was hard during those times. And not all survived. My parents lost relatives and friends.

Approximately 40 years later, my parents lost their livelihood, farming, because of changes in milk production requirements. They also faced what would happen if the Vietnam War was still going on when my brothers became old enough to be drafted.

My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and World War II, but before that, they faced World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. Life was hard then, too, and again, not all survived. Everyone lost family and friends. And that was before any type of social security or public assistance. Unless you had family or friends that could help, you were on your own.

My great-grandparents immigrated from Europe. My maternal great-grandfather’s older brothers came over from England first. They eventually settled in Wisconsin and farmed. As they could, they sent money back to England. Years later, my great-grandfather, his mother, and some siblings immigrated to the United States as well. The only way to get to the United States at that time was by ship—six to fourteen weeks in a small ship. And they probably couldn’t have afforded a cabin, and so would have traveled steerage. This meant they would have been crammed together with everyone else below deck. That, too, would have been extremely difficult and dangerous from a health standpoint. I don’t know if any of my ancestors died on the trip, but many people did. And when they left England, they knew they would not return and would never again see those that decided to stay.

It makes me wonder what my ancestors would think of what is happening now. People complaining because they are being asked to do nothing more than to stay home to keep others safe. Whining that they can’t get a haircut. Endangering others so they can party. Being distraught because they can only communicate with their extended family and friends by Zoom, phone calls, texts, email, etc., when at one time the only way to communicate with those left behind was by letter that took weeks or months to get to the recipient, and that long again to get a reply.

I can hear what my parents would say about wearing a mask in public. My dad would say something about having to wear a shirt and shoes (and pants) anyway, so why not? Then he’d make some wry comment about hoping he didn’t wear the pieces in the wrong places. Mom would say something about saving money on lipstick. After all they had been through, wearing a mask would be minor. Besides, my parents were always respectful and responsible. If wearing a mask would help others, they would do it.

I know that if my ancestors heard me complaining about being asked to stay at home to keep others safe during this pandemic, or wearing a  mask when I had to go out, they would, from the grave, disown me. And rightly so. My life has been, and still is at this moment, incredibly easy compared to theirs. Nothing that I have been asked to do to keep others safe is anything more than a mild inconvenience.

I think if my ancestors could see me (and who says they can’t?) they would be proud of my actions and attitude. What about you? Would your ancestors be proud of you for what you are doing during this crisis? Does thinking about what they went through make it a little easier for you to manage the current situation?

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