This column is inspired by a 1970 song by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for parents to “teach your children well.”
I’ve been thinking about that song often as I’ve wondered how my relatives who were stuck at home during WW II dealt with restrictions similar to what we’re encountering with COVID-19. They tried to tell me, but I’ve forgotten so much.
That regret prompts this column to inspire you to open up with your younger family members about the hardships you now are encountering just in case they later encounter something similar in their adult lives. My relatives during WW II faced severe restrictions.
My mom was without her husband, Phillips Brooks, who was serving in the Army Air Corps. Although living with her parents, Jean Brooks, dealt with homeland restrictions and shortages.
My wife’s aunt was without her husband, Uncle Joe Nolte, who served with Gen. George Patton during WW II. As a result, like my mom, Aunt Mary Nolte faced various wartime hardships, maybe similar to what we’re facing with COVID-19.
I so dearly wish I knew more about how they coped with that period and had talked with them in more detail about their experiences. I also wish I knew more about how my relatives helped friends and neighbors during that awful time.
Japanese friends of my grandparents were transported to an internment camp, Manzanar, in a California desert. My grandma maintained operation of their California nursery to prevent it from being sold off as happened with so many Japanese business owners.
After their freedom at the end of the war, the Japanese family gave my grandma five natural pearls I still possess and treasure to this day.
I deeply wish I could return those pearls to the family or, at least, talk about their histories. But I don’t remember their names nor even the name of the nursery my grandma preserved for their return.
Aunt Mary and my mom tried to tell us about these stories from the WW II era. But I confess I did not listen as closely as I should have nor did I take notes like I now regularly do as a reporter.
That failure of my youth leads me to suggest that in addition to teaching “your children well,” you might want to urge them to take notes. That would provide a record of your memories of this historic period for your future generations.
I’m sure there are other families with similar stories from their periods of family separations and isolation such as the wars in Viet Nam and the Middle East.
There is another part of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song that urges the new generation to be more open with you about their own uncertainties and struggles.
“You of younger years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by. And so help them with your youth…teach your parents well.”
Whether in person or virtually, encourage your younger relatives to teach you about how they are dealing with this awful COVID-19 era and the problems it is causing.
It might encourage a conversation that helps you gain a better understanding of what they are going through. And that might provide an opportunity to discuss the historical context for what they are facing both today and whatever arises in the future.
So, as a holiday message, I encourage you “teach your children well” to help them deal with the stressful period they’re facing now and be better prepared for the future.
And teach them to take notes.
Beyond that, maybe provide a written description of your earlier years and this current era as a holiday present for your children.
Those notes and a multi-generational discussion this holiday season about family history could be a positive outcome from this horrid COVID-19 era.
(Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970. He directs Missouri Digital News and is an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism).