Our Parents Deserve Better From Us

May 1st, 2020

Mom  Dad II

(published in The Daily Memphian)

(photo: Frank and Kathryn Conaway)

Cleaning out old files and excavating drawers and closets kills time, but like any archaeological dig it also brings things back to life. My birth certificate showed up along with my baptismal certificate, a note from my Godfather, MLGW bills from decades ago, forgotten this and that, and the like.

And Mom and Dad – both long gone – appeared in the middle of the memory shuffle, in the middle of Covid-19 to have a discussion.

The President of the United States – while conducting his daily televised shell game with our lives and livelihoods – has called this pandemic the worst thing that’s ever happened. In his daily televised sideshow – in between magically turning critical testing and supply shortages into surpluses – he says over and over that no one has ever seen anything like this.

Mom is having none of it.

When she was seven, everyone but one at 491 South Highland, my grandparents’ home and mine growing up, got the Spanish Flu as the epidemic swept America in 1918, just as we sent our young men “over there” to face the horrors of World War One. One third of America was infected, and 675,000 died. As my grandparents, my mother, my aunt, and two of my three uncles lay critically ill that awful winter, my other uncle, Richard, four or five at the time and free of the flu, was left to wander the house. As the rest of the family recovered, Richard caught a cold, the cold turned into pneumonia, and Richard died.

She married Dad in 1933 when there were no jobs and very little of anything else. When the next war came – the second World War in her lifetime – Dad volunteered and joined the Navy. She was left with two small children and even smaller resources, raising my older brothers, and living in her mother’s house. And – like everybody else in America did for four years – doing all of it in the face of sacrificial shortages of every kind from rubber to butter, silk to meat, money to husbands. The Pacific Theater was a long way from home and every thought of it frightening, every day of not knowing about Dad a cruel test.

Their generation was tested by worldwide disease and depression, not one but two World Wars, the Korean War, and their own children dying in jungles in Vietnam.

This test is only six or seven weeks in, and our leaders at the national and state level – or those who profess to lead us are, as Dad would put it, “folding like a cheap tent.”

Our President is using coronavirus to run for president, lying about it and his role in it every day, and putting the entire country at risk with false timelines and promises. Last week, he suggested we inject disinfectants and sunshine to cure the problem.

Our Governor is falling in line with Trump’s sycophants to make sure Tennessee is right there at the head of the line for states most at risk. As if coronavirus stops at the county line, as if cases and deaths have been down for 14 days – as if anything that makes sense – he’s opened 89 counties out of 95 in the state this week.

A couple of days before Lee opened restaurants in those 89 counties, Tennessee had the most new cases of Covid-19 yet.

Dad is calling bullshit.

The children of his generation born in the post-war population surge from 1945 to 1964 ... boomers ... were going to change the world, end wars, defeat bigotry and racism, and stand up to the man until the man became the people.

Well, at least weed is legalized in a few states. Groovy.

I’m one of those, a boomer, and so is the President and the Governor, and so is the majority of the base they command. We have largely failed the generation before us, polarized the nation, and reduced national discourse to a fourth-grade level fight on the playground. We've turned science denial into the new test of patriotism and truth telling into an oxymoron. The generation that protested Vietnam and demanded civil rights is now protesting in state capitals and cities for the right to infect others and go bowling. 

We can’t even stand up and come together as one to fight something that’s killing all of us for two or three months without falling apart.

After all, we need our nails done and a haircut. We’ve suffered enough.

Our stubborn stupidity will only further challenge the only real heroes in all of this – those on the front line of healthcare delivery – and further risk the health and welfare of those in the service sector.

I can hear Dad now, but I can’t repeat most of what I’m hearing. I can share this, “Son, you can cure ignorant. You can’t cure stupid.”

At least Jim Strickland, our mayor, is showing some spine in an intelligent and thoughtful approach to opening the city. He’s barely a boomer, born in 1964, but I’ll happily claim him.

I’m a Memphian, and a boomer, and we owe our parents an apology.

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