Monday, March 30, 2009

Remembering to Learn from the Past

When I was young, I would often listen to my grandmother talk about surviving the Great Depression as a young farm wife in America's heartland. Sometimes the stories were funny, sometimes they were heartbreaking, but they were always a window onto another time.

After my grandmother passed away in 1995, I remarked to one of my history professors at Illinois State University that my greatest regret was that I'd never thought to record any of those stories for posterity. So what if she was just a farm wife, just one of many -- she'd still lived through a significant and tumultuous period of American history, and her experiences would help historians understand what it meant to the ordinary Joes and Janes who built this country and made it strong.

More recently, I was talking with some friends about the current economic crisis, and one of them made a comment that really struck a note with me. He said that there was no real reason to be so afraid of a new depression, since every one of us is here because our parents or grandparents survived the Great Depression.

But even as I agreed and talked about my own grandmother's experiences, I realized that a lot of this knowledge has been lost. How many of us still know those skills that allowed her to get her family through those hard times? How many young people know how to darn a sock, or pull some leftovers together with a few potatoes or a cabbage for a hearty meal?

But if some of us still remember, all of us can learn from those reminiscences and recover the skills we need to survive.

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