End of a Generation

The so-called greatest generation has died out in my family, as it soon will die out across the land. The recent death of my mother-in-law at age 98 removed from the scene the last of my wife’s and my parents and their siblings: 26 of them in all.

Their birth years ranged from 1903 to 1922. There were, oddly, 18 males as against only 8 females, and the disparity held for all four sets of siblings:

7 to 3 for my mother’s set

2 to 1 for my father’s set

5 to 3 for my wife’s mother’s set

4 to 1 for my wife’s father’s set.

Only one of the 26 died before reaching adulthood (my father’s younger brother at 18 months). Two others (also males) died relatively young. One of my mother’s brothers died just a few weeks before his 40th birthday as a result of a jeep accident (he was on active duty in the Coast Guard). One of my wife’s mother’s brothers died at age 48 as a long delayed result of a blow to the head by a police truncheon.

The other 15 males lived to ages ranging from 65 to 96, with an average age at death of 77 years. The 8 females lived to ages ranging from 69 to 99, with an average age at death of 87 years. The longest-lived of the males was the only one to pass the 90 mark. Four of the females lived into their 90s, dying at ages 91, 96, 98, and 99.

All of the 25 who reached adulthood also married. Only two of them had a marriage end in divorce. All of them were raised in near-poverty or in somewhat comfortable circumstances that vanished with the onset of the Great Depression. All of them worked hard, whether in the home or outside of it; none of them went on welfare; most of the men and two of the women served in uniform during World War II.

Thus passeth a generation sui generis.

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill….

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology (“The Hill“)