PHILADELPHIA REFLECTIONS
Musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for six decades

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History: Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies
Philadelphia and the Quaker Colonies

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New volume 2012-07-04 14:03:33 description

In Memoriam

Charles Peterson
Henry Cadbury
Kenneth Gordon, MD
Lewis Harlow van Dusen, Jr.
Lindley B. Reagan, M.D.
Frederick Mason Jones, Jr.
George Willoughby

Charles Peterson and Amity Buttons

{Charles Peterson}
Charles Peterson

Charles Peterson, the famous architectural historian and preservationist, died just before his 98th birthday on August 19, 2004. It is to him we largely owe the redevelopment of Society Hill, and the design of the Independence National Park, as well as a host of restorations from the Adams Mansion of Quincy , Massachusetts, to the early French settlements along the Mississippi. He conceived of many national historic preservation projects, the most notable of which is the Historic American Buildings Survey (HASB) of the Department of the Interior.

The Adams Mansion

While he was most notable for large visions and huge projects, he also had a keen appreciation for fastidious accuracy in small matters, of which the Amity Button would be a vivid example. In the surviving Colonial buildings of Philadelphia, it is common to find a plain ivory coat button nailed to the top of the newel post of the main staircase. There's one in Independence Hall, another in the grand staircase of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and there is one in Charlie Peterson's own home, the one where he was the first Society Hill gentrification pioneer, a house originally built by Stephen Girard around 3rd and Spruce.

The Free Quaker
Meeting House

There is a strong tradition in Philadelphia that these strange buttons are Amity Buttons, nailed there by the Quaker builder at the moment when the new owner had fully settled his construction debt, symbolizing the amity between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Countless visitors to Society Hill have been shown these curious buttons, and it always seems to produce a warm glow of appreciation for the discovery. If you have one of these in your own house, you can be very proud.

Unfortunately, Charlie Peterson couldn't find any evidence for the truth of this fable, and you can be sure he subjected the matter to a totally dedicated search. You might think there would be some notations in the deeds, or in the correspondence of the day, or in the literature of the times. You would think that someone who repeats this tale would be able to relate where he got it, and that would lead to some letters in an attic, and that if you work hard enough, you will find it. But when the button matter came up, Mr. Peterson would suddenly become grim-lipped and sad, and repeat the mantra that there is no evidence to support the story. He even awarded prizes to architectural students for essays on newel posts, bannisters and stair rails, but no student essay ever turned up any authentication of the Amity Button story. Absence of evidence is of course not the same as evidence of absence, so it is remotely possible that the story will some day be vindicated.

Indeed, you have to believe there was something or other to start the story. Victor Failmetzger and his wife, who have a notable reputation for authenticating old house parts, relate that in Colonial Virginia it was common to have hollow newel posts on the stairway, and occasionally to find the deed to the house secreted in one of them. So the search goes on.

In fact, it always seemed likely that Charles Peterson very much wanted to believe the fable was true. But until some evidence turned up, he was going to go to his grave with the declaration that there existed no evidence for it.

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http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/946.htm


Henry Cadbury Dresses Up for the King

{Henry Cadbury}
Henry Cadbury

There are a few old Quaker Clothes in the attics of their descendants, and on suitable occasions an old broad-brimmed hat or two will appear at a Quaker gathering, for amusement. Quakers gave up the old style of "plain dress" when it became generally agreed that such eccentric dress was not plain at all, but rather drew attention to itself. On the other hand, there is a distinctly unfashionable quality to almost everything Quakers do wear. When silk and nylon stockings were fashionable for women, Quaker women often wore black stockings. When it became the style for women to sport black stockings, Quaker women usually wore flesh-colored nylons. Among men, thin metal-trimmed spectacles displayed the same counter-fashionable tendency. Nowadays, these little quirks are often public signals among strangers, a way of wig-wagging "I notice you are a Quaker, so am I." And of course, unfashionable clothes are cheaper, and that's always a good thing.

And so it happened in 1947 that the Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with information passed along that white tie and tails were the expected form of dress at the ceremony. Henry Cadbury was selected to receive the award on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, and you can be sure Henry Cadbury didn't own a set of tails. Henry was also very certain he wasn't going to go out and buy a set, just for a single wearing.

The AFSC collects used clothing, to distribute to the poor. Henry inquired whether there might be a set of white tie and tails to be found in the used-clothing bin, and luckily there was. It had been collected on behalf of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, when that impoverished but distinguished group of musicians was invited to give a concert in London. One of the monkey suits more, or less, fit Henry.

So, after investing in dry cleaning and pressing, Henry packed it up and went off to Oslo, to meet the King.

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/1034.htm


Kenneth Gordon, MD, Hero of Valley Forge

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/KGMDvalleyforge.jpg}
Valley Forge

There's no statue of Ken Gordon at Valley Forge National Park, although it would be appropriate. No building is named after him; it's probable he isn't even eligible to be buried there. But there would be no park to visit at Valley Forge without his strenuous exertions.

Kenneth Gordon M.D.

One day, Ken's seventh grade daughter came home from school with the news that the father of one of her classmates said that Valley Forge Park was going to be turned into a high-rise development. That's known as hearsay, and lots of things you hear in seventh grade are best ignored. But this happened to be substantially true. At that time, the Park was owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Governor Shapp was finding the upkeep on the Park was an expense he needed to reduce. The historic area had two components, the headquarters area, and the encampment area. One part would become high-rise development and the other would become a Veteran's Administration cemetery. Although any form of rezoning has the familiar sound of politics to it, Dr. Gordon (a child psychiatrist) had the impression that Shapp was mostly interested in reducing state expenses, and had no particular objection to some better use of the historic area. At any rate, when Gordon went to see him, he said that he would agree to a historic park if Gordon could raise the money somehow. The Federal Government seemed a likely place to start.

Governor Milton Shapp

Well, the sympathetic civil servants at the National Park Service told him how it was going to be. You get the consent of the local Congressman (Dick Shulze) and it will happen. If you don't get his consent, it won't happen. It seemed a simple thing to visit that Congressman, persuade him of the value of the idea, and it would be all done; who could refuse? After the manner of politicians, Schulze never did refuse, but somehow never got around to agreeing, either. It takes a little time to learn the political game, but after a reasonable time the National Park employees told Gordon he was licked. Too bad, give up.

He didn't give up, he went to see his Senators, at that time Scott and Clark. They instantly thought it was a splendid idea, and instead of going pleasantly limp, they sent Citizen Gordon over to see Senator Johnson of Louisiana, the chairman of a relevant committee. Johnson also thought it was a great idea, and called out, "Get me a bill writer!" A bill writer is usually a government lawyer, tasked with listening to some citizen's idea and translating it into that strange language of laws -- section 8(34), sub-chapter X is hereby changed to, et cetera. Bill writers have to be pretty good at it, or otherwise they will misunderstand the intent of the original idea, modified by the personal spin of the committee chairman, the comments of the authorizing committee, and later bargains struck in the House-Senate conference committee. Having negotiated all those hurdles, a bill has to be written in such a prescribed manner that it won't be found to have multiple loopholes when it later reaches the courts in a dispute. A good deal of the time of our courts is taken up with making sense of some careless wording by bill writers. That's what is known as the "Intent of Congress", an ingredient that may or may not survive the whole process.

Dick Schulze

Ken Gordon had to go through this process, including testimony at hearings, for three separate congressional committees. To get everybody's attention, he organized several hundred supporters to write letters and get petitions signed by several thousand voters. These supporters in turn influenced the media, and started a lot of what is known as buzz. All of this is an awful lot of work, but there is one thing about this case that can make us all proud. Not once did a politician suggest a campaign contribution was essential in this matter.

In time, ownership of the Park did in fact migrate from the Commonwealth to the U.S. Department of the Interior, hence to the National Parks Service. Everyone agrees it has been well managed, and increasing droves of visitors come there every year. It is now clearly a national treasure. Unfortunately, the encampment area got away, and has been commercially developed, although not nearly as high-rise as originally contemplated. Along the way, many discouraging words were spoken about the futility of fighting against such odds. The outcome, however, is the embodiment of two slogans, the first by Ronald Reagan. "It's amazing what can be accomplished, if you don't care who gets the credit for it." The other slogan is older, and Quaker. All you need, to accomplish anything, is leadership. And leadership -- is one person.

One day Ken Gordon, the very busy doctor, was asked how much of his time was taken by this effort. His answer was, ten hours a week, every week for five years.

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/564.htm


Lewis Harlow van Dusen, Jr. (1910-2004)

{Croix de Guerre}
Croix de Guerre

Lew van Dusen was one of the great story-tellers of a story-telling city. In one continuous lunch conversation he could string together personal anecdotes about Lloyd George, Lawrence of Arabia, William Bingham, the making of the hydrogen bomb, the Croix de Guerre (which he had been awarded), Nicholas Murray Butler, several Supreme Court Justices, Harvard Law School (where he led the class), and on and on until the waitress would just go ahead and clear the table. He even told of his own great suffering as a boy sitting at proper Philadelphia dinners, where it was a firm rule that acceptable topics of conversation were limited to the Wimbleton lawn tennis matches, and the sinking of the Titanic.

When the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of State Oil v. Kahn came up for arguments, he and I rode together on the Metroliner down to Washington, stayed at a club there, and after the hearing took the train back to Philadelphia. During the entire time, Lew never stopped talking, and his voice was very loud. There was the time in Macao when a retired British diplomat came up to him and said he knew the history of every gravestone in the cemetery for foreigners, except five, and two of those names were on the letterhead of Lew's firm (Drinker, Biddle and Reath). Drinker, it turns out, was American consul and discovered that all of his guests were poisoned by the cook. He traveled all night, getting stomachs pumped out, but not his own, and died the next morning from the poison. Biddle, on the other hand, was also a physician interested in Yellow Fever, and died of it when he contracted the disease from one of the subjects.

There was the time when he was the young guest of Nicholas Murray Butler at a luncheon with British Prime Minister Lloyd George. "Tell Mr. Roosevelt," said George, "That Social Security is nothing but a dole."

And the time when King George gave everybody the day off on his 25th Anniversary as King, so they played cricket. His team mate was Lawrence of Arabia, and after the game, Lawrence hopped on his motorcycle and rode off down the road to be killed. Lew was the last person to see Lawrence alive.

Well, when you get to the Supreme Court, the public stands in line on the steps, out in the rain. But the lawyers go around to the back door, where there is a lounge and a lunchroom. Inside two minutes, Lew was surrounded by lawyers as he told more stories. One of them tugged my sleeve and asked, "Is that who I think it is?" I said I supposed so, although who he had in mind is still a mystery to me.

State Oil turns out to have been as important to antitrust law as we supposed it would be; the fine points of vertical integration were afterwords explained to me. And finally, I was told how, when he was chairman of the Ethics committee of the American Bar Association, Lew's committee caused the ABA to reverse its long-standing opposition to cameras and audio equipment in courtrooms. The effect of this has been slow, but gradually courts are permitting the televising of trials, and eventually they probably all will permit it. But not yet the U.S. Supreme Court. Non-lawyers still stand in the rain outside, and if there are no seats left inside, too bad.

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/925.htm


Lin

Lindley B. Reagan, M.D.

July 16, 1918 -- September 10, 1995



{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/Regan.jpg}
Lindley B. Reagan, M.D

The first and oldest hospital in America, the Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Spruce Streets, always had a strong Quaker flavor but a unique medical tradition as well. Since it was the only American hospital for decades, later becoming the home hospital of the first medical school in the country, it impressed its ideals and traditions on the whole of American medicine. However, it imposed so many difficult demands on its trainees that a century or more of an evolving profession simply moved away from copying it. It was, in 1960, the last hospital in the country to begin paying its resident physicians anything at all, one of the last privately controlled American hospital to adopt a billing and accounting department, and one of the last if not the last to regard a handful of private beds as merely a convenience for the patients of the staff physicians. In 1970 its method of maintaining inventory was to notice that the supplies on the shelf were running low, and ordering some more. It was founded in Benjamin Franklin's words, for the "sick poor, and if there is room, for those who can pay," and could only survive into the late 20th Century through private donations and the freely contributed services of the doctors, student nurses and administration. No amount of money could induce people to work as hard as they worked. You might say this was the only aspect of Medieval monasteries which Philadelphia Quakers thought worthy of imitating.

Download the video player from apple.com/quicktime

Somewhere in this set of ideals was the treasured concept of a rotating internship, preferably two years long, prior to entering specialty training through a residency. In 19th Century Vienna, it was a matter of rule that an intern was just that, physically confined within the walls for the term of service, and a resident was just that, someone who lived on the campus. The Pennsylvania Hospital had no such rule, but since it paid the doctors nothing for five or six years of eighty-hour weeks, their poverty forced them to satisfy the Viennese rules by default. Entertainment was bridge or poker in the intern quarters, conversational chit-chat was a description of bizarre cases or peculiar patients, a weekend "off-call" was a good time to catch up on correspondence. There were student nurses around, of course, but the matron was a pretty no-nonsense chaperon. Every class of interns contained one or two millionaires by inheritance, but peer pressure made them nearly indistinguishable in the daily routines. Aristocrats' main value to the resident physician community was their access to the ruling families in the city, and hence to the governance of the hospital, in case governance should occasionally abuse the vulnerability of the trainees.

I find in retirement that most of my colleagues are now willing to tell stories of the "old days" which they were unwilling to tell at the time. Over several glasses of the finest single-malt in a walnut-paneled club, one such story recently surfaced. It concerned Lin.

Lin was a member of an old Quaker family, surprising everybody during the Second World War by volunteering as a junior physician in the Navy. He was assigned to a marine regiment in the Pacific Theater, and went through some of the most murderous fighting on Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. Our grapevine reported that the enlisted marines in his outfit absolutely worshipped him, and I easily believe there was a lot of quiet heroism behind that gossip. He told me he had decided to become an internist while in the Pacific, but somehow only a surgical residency was available when the War was over, so he took it. He was probably the best internist on the staff, and it showed in his conduct of surgery, where it sometimes matters more what you decide to cut than what you cut. He always looked exhausted, but never hesitated to drive himself another hour when the situation demanded it. One day, he had to excuse himself from an operation, an almost unheard-of event, and testing his own urine, found it loaded with sugar. So, the soft-spoken Quaker internist who was primarily doing surgery, had to add the burden of insulin injections to his load. If he ever complained about that or any other thing, no one could remember hearing it.

At about the third glass of single malt, the story came out. My old friend, like the rest of us, had to spend a year as a surgical intern during the two-year rotating internship; he hated surgery and didn't mind telling the world. At the moment in question, he was the assistant at some neck surgery, with Lin performing the actual surgery. He was told to take a long pair of scissors and cut off the excess strands of sutures after Lin tied the knots; that was known as trimming the ligatures. They were working deep in the crevices of the patient's neck. Lin held up the loose ends of the knot and ordered, "Cut". My friend inserted the long scissors into the hole and snipped -- accidentally cutting right through the jugular vein.

As would be expected, a fountain of blood came up out of the hole, and Lin stopped it by putting his thumb on the cut ends of the vein. "Well," said Lin, "I guess we'll have to fix that." And did.

With tears in his eyes, my octogenarian friend cried out to the startled clubroom. "God bless you. God bless you, Lin."

Perhaps the point isn't clear to those who didn't go through the process, so let's be more explicit. Both my friend and I worshipped Lin, as a person, a teacher, and a surgeon. He was the perfect agent for his patients, without the tiniest trace of conflict of interest, income maximizing or whatnot. He was as technically skillful as it is useful to be, but he was the thinking man's surgeon as well as the utterly faithful servant of the best interests of the humblest patient. He was, in the opinion of his closest professional associates, the best surgeon in the world. In need of surgery ourselves, all of us would have flown the Atlantic to have him operate on us. For reasons of his own, he was to spend the forty years of his professional life in a small country town with a small hospital, scarcely a famous surgeon but a beloved one to his community. Over the past sixty years I have had a number of opportunities to know many surgeons who would be in contention for the title of best surgeon in the world. Some have written books, some have struggled successfully upward through vicious competition, some of them would be called "Rainmakers" if the research world followed the pattern of lawyers and architects. One or two have won Nobel Prizes for surgical innovations, but that's different from being the best surgeon around. The best surgeon in the world was Lin, faithfully plying his trade in a little town that could not possibly know how lucky they were.

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/1130.htm


Frederick Mason Jones,Jr. 1919-2009

{Mason Jones}
Mason Jones

Classical music, however else it may be defined, strongly implies music played by an orchestra, or at least a group of musicians. It thus should be no surprise that the members of a famous orchestra bond together for most of their lifetimes in a sense far beyond the ordinary meaning of teamwork. If you are good, really, really good, you will come to the orchestra as a boy, devote every hour of every day to the orchestra, and step down only as a famous old man when you sense that reaction times have slowed. You sit together, travel together, rehearse together, and talk a language of detail which no one else can fully comprehend. Mistakes that one of you made forty years ago in a performance, are still joked about, because your colleagues know you still feel the pain of it, just as they share their own infrequent but no less fully remembered, moments of failure, largely unnoticed by the audience. When one of your colleagues dies, you turn out by the hundreds for the funeral. And when the hymns are sung, the organist is ignored, struggling to keep up with the people who really know music.

Mason Jones attended the Curtis Institute, itself a collection of prodigies, and was hired by Ormandy after a single audition; a year later he took the position of first horn, and kept it until he finally sensed he was passing his prime, and laid it down. He was featured in the many recordings which defined the orchestra, and the Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet. He sometimes recorded as a soloist, but he thought of himself as an orchestral horn player, teaching orchestral horn at the Curtis to many generations of aspirants. He even conducted a little, usually in small groups. His comment on that was that it doesn't take much to be a conductor. "Just ask any orchestra player." At his funeral, it was related that the second horn once had two solo passages repeated within a larger piece, but when its time came there was silence. The second time around, it was played faultlessly. Afterwards, Mason was asked what happened. "Fell asleep," he answered. And the second time? "I just played it for him."

{St. Peter's in the Great Valley}
St. Peter's in the Great Valley

Mason's funeral was held at St. Peter's in the Great Valley, illustrating that strange combination of artistic prodigies with modest beginnings, and the highest of high society, who mix together to create a great orchestra. A very well-groomed lady was heard to remark that this was where she had her coming-out party. St. Peters was founded as an Anglican mission church in 1700 in the Welsh Barony, built a log cabin church in 1728, replaced it with a little white jewel of a church in 1856, and added new buildings in the past few years to accommodate the population growth in the valley. The church has abundant well tended land, sited on a hilltop surrounded by high hills, quite suitable for a college or private school campus. The homes in the area are a step beyond splendid, hidden in the wooded countryside. Unless you know precisely where to go, the tangle of country roads will defeat you. But the arterial of U.S. 202 is only a few miles away, and Philadelphia's silicon valley nestles beside the highway, inevitably closing in on the countryside. There will be horses and kennels and fox hunts in the region for another decade perhaps, but the new world is moving in on the old one, from all directions.

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/1593.htm


George Willoughby, 95, Peace Activist

{George Willoughby}
George Willoughby

Age was nothing but a number for 95-year-old peace activist George Willoughby of Deptford. His worldwide antiwar protests and nonviolent teachings started when he was in his mid-40s and continued until just weeks ago.

Mr. Willoughby was planning a six-week trip this month to India to meet friends he had made during visits to the birthplace of his idol, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and probably to give some of his trademark peace talks.

But Mr. Willoughby died at home of heart failure Jan. 5, a month short of the journey.

A Quaker who led local protests and famous treks from San Francisco to Moscow and from New Delhi to Beijing, Mr. Willoughby recruited many advocates for nonviolent conflict resolution, said a friend and member of the Central Philadelphia Meeting, Nicole Hackel.

"Once you experienced him, you didn't forget him," Hackel said, adding that she became a Quaker in the 1970s because of Mr. Willoughby's influence. "George would engage in conversation with anyone, even a 5-year-old who was attending meeting for the first time."

Mr. Willoughby became a household name for area Quakers after he became director of the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors in Philadelphia in 1954. He soon was a frequent presence in the news, mostly under headlines with the words peace, marchers, and protest.

In 1958, Mr. Willoughby was one of five crewmen on the sailboat Golden Rule who received 60-day jail sentences in Honolulu for trying to sail to the area of the Pacific Ocean where the U.S. government was testing nuclear bombs in the atmosphere.

That was Mr. Willoughby's first of many incarcerations, said his son, Alan.

"The Society of Friends in Honolulu brought him a lot of decent food. . . . He always spoke highly" of the Hawaii jail experience, his son said with a slight laugh.

Two years later, Mr. Willoughby organized a dual-continent march to protest nuclear testing. Protesters in groups of about a dozen each covered six countries in 10 months between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Mr. Willoughby joined the group in Poland. Soviet officials stopped them 100 yards short of the Lenin-Stalin tomb in Moscow's main square, according to reports at the time. Instead of delivering speeches, the group was forced to stand in the square in a silent vigil.

In 1963, Mr. Willoughby embarked with about a dozen others on what he intended to be his longest hike - 4,000 miles from New Delhi to Beijing to promote peace between India and China.

Before his journey, a Philadelphia Evening Bulletin reporter asked whether there was a better way than marching to bring about peace.

Mr. Willoughby responded: "Most people of these countries walk; we can reach them. Even if it does no good at all, it is worth it. It's an idea I believe in, and if it produces fruit, so much the better."

After eight months of walking, Mr. Willoughby and company were stopped at the India-China border and barred from crossing into China.

In the next three decades, Mr. Willoughby's projects included the formation of A Quaker Action Group, which opposed the Vietnam War, in 1966; the Life Center Community in West Philadelphia, a training and campaign center for nonviolence, in 1971; and Peace Brigades International, a human-rights group, in 1981.

One of his most memorable contributions to South Jersey, family and friends said, was the creation of the Old Pine Farm Natural Lands Trust, 45 acres of natural conservancy in Deptford.

In his later years, Mr. Willoughby received honors around the world for his peace work, such as the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation award in 2002 in Mumbai, India, which recognizes those who promote Gandhi's ideas and values.

Born in Cheyenne, Wyo., Mr. Willoughby spent much of his childhood in the Panama Canal Zone, where his father worked in construction.

Mr. Willoughby was part of his high school's JROTC program, but, according to friend and biographer Gregory Barnes, he quickly realized the military was not for him.

A family rift led Mr. Willoughby to live in Des Moines, Iowa, with a family friend, Elinor Robson. In the 1930s, he received three degrees in political science, including a doctorate from the University of Iowa.

In 1940, Mr. Willoughby married Lillian Pemberton, a "birthright Quaker" he met in college. By 1944, he became a Quaker, fully immersed in the Religious Society of Friends' beliefs and ideologies.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mr. Willoughby worked for the Des Moines office of the American Friends Service Committee before moving to Philadelphia with his wife and their four children.

After bypass surgery in 2000, Mr. Willoughby had to slow down. He wasn't able to participate in as many marches and rallies as he would have liked, his son said, but he remained active online.

One of Mr. Willoughby's last protests was in March 2003, an organized obstruction of the entrance of a federal building in Philadelphia to protest the war in Iraq. He took photos of his 89-year-old wife getting her head shaved as part of the demonstration.

"I've never seen her like that, but I like it," he told a reporter. Lillian Willoughby died last year.

One of Mr. Willoughby's last speeches was at Scattergood Friends School in Iowa a few months after his wife's death. He took a road trip with Hackel and one of his daughters to the Scattergood refuge camp's 70th anniversary reunion, which was held at the school.

Once there, Mr. Willoughby did what he did best: talk. "He just fascinated the young people there," Hackel said.

Some of Mr. Willoughby's last words of advice were: "It is the duty of the opposition to oppose," his son said. "He thought it is your duty to speak up . . . for what you believe is right."

In addition to his son, Mr. Willoughby is survived by daughters Sally, Anita, and Sharon and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Friends Center at 15th and Cherry Street

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/1775.htm


New Roles For Grandparents

Like everyone else, I had two grandfathers and two grandmothers. However, I can only remember seeing one grandmother on a single occasion when I was three or four years old, and the other three died before I gathered any recollection of them. Essentially, I never knew my grandparents. If they ever knew me, it was as a puking infant, don't he look sweet.

{Grandpa and Grandson}
Great Grandpa and Great Grandson

One of the many unexpected consequences of the introduction of penicillin, polio vaccine and the like, is that my generation has had to invent the role of grandparent, without any models to follow. My grandchildren are all in college or beyond, with reasonable expectations of getting married and starting careers while I watch. I already have two great-grandchildren, and with luck will have lots more. To my knowledge until ten years ago, I never met anyone who had great-grandchildren, so I'm not entirely certain what I'm expected to do with them. I could ask others, but they don't know much, either. Society has evolved a database of experience about how parents are supposed to relate to children, and children have evolved a literature about how they are expected to cope with their reflex hostility to their parents. Sigmund Freud made up a huge mythology about such conflicts and emotions, and while we are shaking off a good deal of it, Freud did help define the general rules of behavior between parents and children. All of us believe we are exceptions to such rules, of course, but they do make up a road map of the land mines to avoid. Furthermore, most of us formed some firm opinions during the Vietnam conflict, or the Summer of Love; presumably, most of our children feel a little silly about it now. Their folk songs record the mythology of that experience; even with guitar accompaniment, these songs all sound a little wry. Sorry about that. Wouldn't have missed it for the world, but sorry about that. Are ya gonna need me, are ya gonna feed me, when I'm sixty four. Sixty-four? That was twenty years ago.

By this time, the sassy generation has had a chance to learn how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, as a reminder that there have always been a few who lived King Lear's experiences, but now it could happen to anyone. The two generations, my children's and my own, have now lived a common experience from start to end, not just half of it as Freud depicted. But there's a new twist; the two generations think they have a role with the third generation. Both generations are unclear about what the grandparents role should be with the new generation of young adults. I know what I think, you know what your think. Neither of us knows anything.

A thousand years of experience teaches how unwise it is to allow any relationship to revolve around gifts and the expectation of gifts. A mere two hundred years of experience make it plain to almost everyone how easy it is to ruin children by making life too easy for them. What does one do, then, with savings large or small, when grandchildren seem to combine aloofness with expectations? Does our society really expect us to favor our personal genome into eons of astronomical time? As one wanders occasionally through graveyards, it is very clear that our nostalgia for great grandparents born in 1814, is small indeed. Should we make an effort to create a lasting impression on such visitors from another planet, or should the whole misty idea of consanguinity be abandoned as a delusion. Should we take the wry advice of those who test our reactions with cynical descriptions. Should we, in a word, attempt to live out our lives with the perfect timing of spending our last dollar during our last hour? Come back in fifty years and there will be shelves of novels, plays and poetry which tell the sad tales of those who made one choice or the other. Future generations of grandparents will still have to make their own decisions, but at least they will know how the world will view them. One generation will likely cling to the viewpoint of its contemporaries, another generation will reject such viewpoints as nonsense. Our generation will never be quite sure.

Among the funny things about this situation is the curious inversion of the social classes. Everyone notices how domestic servants hang around observing the behavior Upstairs; no matter how firmly it is rejected Below Stairs, employer behavior is marveled at and imitated to some degree. But in the past, those servant social groups who had their children at sixteen, their grandchildren at thirty-two, their great-grandchildren at forty-eight, knew something that those of us who defer our gratifications might wish we knew. The experience is raw and basic, and all the more important for that reason. Some budding novelist, hoping to cloak predictions as folk lore, might give that theme a try.

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/1823.htm



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