Since May 14 was Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is June 16th this year, I thought it was a good time to post this article. This story is one of 46 from my newest book Philly Tales Book Two. It’s on Amazon.com.
It was 4:30 AM, and I abruptly woke up thinking about my grandparents’ and parents’ lives. They all lived into their 70s, and my mom was 87 when she passed. They never had much money to speak of, but at least in their older years, they were not destitute. Still, they all lived in one of the most tumultuous periods in U.S. history.
They experienced the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that killed 3% to 5% of the world’s population (50 to 100 million people), and 500,000 to 700,000 in the United States alone. Twenty-eight percent of the U.S. population was infected. We had our own pandemic that was bad; over one million people died in the U.S.—about 0.3% of the population. In 1917–19, most people did not have phones, radios, TVs, Internet, online food ordering, etc. It must have been excruciatingly difficult for them.
The flu epidemic came as WWI started for the United States. My grandparents bid their brothers farewell as they marched off to Europe to fight the Germans. Approximately 137,000 did not return, and worldwide, it is estimated that over 19 million people died in that war.
By 1929 when my mother was just 15 years old, the great depression started. By 1932, unemployment rates skyrocketed to over 23%, and by 1933, they were at 25%. This era spawned the expression, “Hey buddy, can you spare a dime,” and ex-Wall Street brokers were selling apples and pencils on street corners.
Just as the depression was ending, the world went to war again. WWII started in Europe in 1939, and by late 1941, the United States was once again in a world war. Our families watched as their sons and daughters went to fight in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Over 400,000 sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers never came home. Worldwide, over 70 to 85 million people perished in that war. Families woke up one morning learning that two atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan and the war was over.
This started 50 years of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. In between, parents watched once again as their children went to war in Korea. Over 36,000 did not come home. Starting in 1955 and ramping up in the mid-1960s, the Vietnam War required grandparents and parents to watch again as their grandchildren and children went off to war. Over 58,000 did not come home. The total number of deaths in the Vietnam War was 2.4 to 3.5 million people. That war ended in 1975.
It’s a wonder that our parents and grandparents could raise their children, teach them right from wrong, and smile as they always did. It’s a testament to the human spirit and a lesson in perseverance, fortitude, and faith in one’s ability to transcend beyond their fears and life’s obstacles. It’s something we all need to remember.
These photos represent the various trials and tribulations that occurred between 1918 and 1975. Most of the people in the photos are Philadelphia born.