History

Those I was there days

June 21, 2016
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Some of you, in fact, very few of you may have been lucky enough to have great, great aunts (or uncles) who lived in this world well beyond a century. This would mean that in terms of their unique longevity, they would have been great human beings into the bargain. There would have been those uncles and aunts who have lived in not just three centuries, but at this point of our human history, in two millenniums.

How wonderful is that? In fact, as we speak, there are such remarkable men and women who are still living to tell their tales of history. Wouldn’t it be nice if you were blessed in such a way and could tell the rest of us what stories those magnificent people shared with you over the years?

Imagine if you had an aunt who was born in the last few years of the nineteenth century. Let’s say that her family was from the impoverished rural landscapes of Italy and Eastern Europe. Let’s also just say that she was old enough to remember what transpired and what she experienced after she and her poor family witnessed the dawn of the new millennium without much fanfare. She may have been old enough to remember the arduous boat trip across the Atlantic Ocean to America, believed to be the land of opportunity back then. Most of us have only seen it on TV or in movies, but imagine seeing the Statue of Liberty for the very first time from the crowded railings of the boat.

A few years may have passed, and suddenly loved ones were dressed in browns with a heavy backpack strapped to their thin backs, heading back up the steps of the same boat that brought them to the New World in the first place. It was utterly devastating, and many of them never returned from fighting in the Great War. Then things got really bad at home. No sooner had they lost many young members of their family, these growing women now had to bear the brunt of the Great Depression, standing in long queues and scrounging about for dry potatoes and cabbages.

And as they witnessed and experienced an economic miracle, another devastating war was foisted on them. Many of them may have refused work in armaments factories to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. But then there were those who believed that this was necessary to rid the world of a true axis of evil. Many years later, just after the turn of the new millennium, unimaginable to them at this point in history, very much alive, they must have had a sad sense of déjà vu, wondering when the next devastating war would come. Nevertheless, these women now had young sons who were deemed old enough to go off to war.

Even though their mothers protested, these young men volunteered and went on their way anyway. A few years later, some of them returned home, joyous and victorious. Something of a golden era of recovery was experienced by these matrons, but in the back of most of their minds was the realization that a bitter cold war was being kept on ice. They experienced those frightening days when the world was brought to its knees, on the brink of utter destruction, never mind the loss of a few more million lives. At the same time, some of them saw their young grandsons go off to faraway countries to fight in wars that they were erroneously conscripted into.

There were also those grandmothers, perhaps more confused than proud, who saw how their brave children chose love and education over war and hate. But as the years wore on, things seemed to be getting better at home. Everyone was doing well and grown up children had their own families to see to. Some of the grandchildren had already left college or university and entered the real world of full-time work. But there were those who were not so lucky. Elsewhere in the world, extreme poverty and hunger had been something that these ageing women had become used to.

Invariably, they were much stronger and resilient than their children and grandchildren, not so much due to their values or experiences of life, but more because they had to. It was the only way for surviving members of impoverished families to make it. Mothers and fathers having been lost to wars and disease, grandmothers and great-grandmothers now had to take up the mantle of being mothers, fathers, farmers and entrepreneurs, all rolled into one. Bereft of proper schools in their villages, the children would gather around in the evenings and listen to the wise counsel of the elderly on the ways of the world. Those that survived would be able to gather what their grannies had taught them and make their own ways into the world, often being encouraged by their grandmothers to leave their homelands behind in search of a better, more peaceful and prosperous life.

Then, as they say, the Berlin Wall came crumbling down. I was fairly young at the time, but I still remember my father’s words. He simply remarked with great awe and surprise that he never thought this historic day would arrive. Soviet Communism was officially a thing of the past. Wise matrons, however, knew from past experience that more troubles and conflicts would either emerge or become worse if world leaders did not heed the lessons of historic events from the past. Many of them didn’t. I could argue that most of them were culpable in the rise of a new form of terror which is still highlighted by the fall of those twin towers in the city that never sleeps.

By now, the wise old women had survived and lived through three centuries. Because of the year in which I was born, I will never live that far and wide. But, truth be told, so far I have had those I was there days.

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