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A Talk with The Greatest Generation: “I Would Like To Go Dancing Again”

Scotts Parents

On June 25, 1949, Robert Thompson married Juliette (Judy) Hance. Sixty-three years later, after raising two sons and 6 grandchildren, they are still married and live in Elmhurst, Illinois, in a home directly across from Elmhurst College, where they first met. (Photo from Scott Thompson)

From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]@borderstan.com.

This past weekend, I watched the film, The Iron Lady.

I had seen the film once previously, back in January during Oscar nomination season. At the time, I was awed by Meryl Streep’s performance, but I found the overall tone of the film flat — undeserving of the complex political life on which it was based. This time, however, the point of the film resonated with me in a new way — the way I believe its filmmakers had intended.

Rather than an in-depth analysis of political events, The Iron Lady focused on something that affects each of our lives:  the reality of memory, of looking back. Regardless of whether we are Prime Minister or pauper, 90-years-old or 30-years-old, each of us goes to bed at night in the same manner — alone with our thoughts, alone with the memories, the faces, the regrets, and the joys that define our lives.

As I watched the film, I immediately thought of my grandparents Robert and Judy, of the “movie” they must experience as they look back on 60 years of marriage, and 90 and 88 respective years of life. What memories stand out most to them? Most importantly, what have they learned — what lessons could they share?

It’s easy for those of us living in big cities to forget that the greatest lessons available to us often lie within the memories of grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles — the people that we forget to call as we bury our noses in books, music or the internet to find meaning and direction.

This week, I took that realization to heart and called my grandparents — not simply to ask about their day, but to ask about their lives.  They are members of what is known as “The Greatest Generation” — children of the Great Depression and the Americans who won World War II.  Will our generation carry the baton?

Below are excerpts from my conversation with them.

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Scott and Grandpa Bob, in full 1980s regalia. (Photo from Scott Thompson)

After 90 and 88 years, what is it that makes you excited to wake up each day?  What keeps you going?

Robert:  The key is to always have something to look forward to – and if you don’t have anything, make something, whether it’s a vacation or just a dinner date.

Judy: That’s why I always keep my calendar near the phone — to pencil in something to look forward to, be it tomorrow, next week, or next month.

When did you know each other was “the one?”  Do you believe in the concept of “the one?”

Robert: I wanted to go steady with your Grandma because we laughed and had fun wherever we went. It didn’t hurt that she was a good looking, sexy gal, too!

Judy: I had gone on dates with several gentlemen during college. However, when I met your grandfather, it seemed so natural – and I couldn’t imagine going out with anyone else after that. Today, I think young kids are so nervous about everything. We didn’t have any money when we met, but we took the bull by the horns and went for the moon. When I walked down the aisle, I was not apprehensive at all — I knew I had made the right choice. It really is about finding someone you love to be with all day long — who makes you laugh — who is your friend. That’s what I think at least.

Robert: And we still cuddle up in bed. The other night your grandmother had a nightmare, woke up, and hit me with a pillow. I sat up, turned to her, and yelled “what on earth do you think you’re going to do with a pillow?” We still make each other laugh.

After fighting in World War II and seeing the horrific side of humanity, were you nervous about bringing children into the world? 

Robert: No, because when I remember the war, like most things in life, I remember the good times. I don’t remember the bombs – I remember the baseball games, or the songs, or laughs on the ship. The good memories always rise to the surface if you let them.

How important is money to happiness?

Judy: It certainly helps, especially as you raise kids and when you’re older. When your grandfather retired, we loved being able to travel, to go to the symphony, to do the things we loved. But when we started out, we were just like you kids. We only had two pieces of furniture and lived on what money we had. It was very hard to save anything. Our favorite night was potluck night with our friends. I could perform miracles with one pound of ground beef in those days!

Robert: There is a line that goes something like “From the cradle to the grave, the money that matters most, is the money you gave.”  So you may laugh when your Mom sends you a gift or when I give you a $10 bill before you go to the airport, but we do it because there is joy in it.

What is one day you wish you could live over again?

Judy: Our 50th wedding anniversary — being surrounded by our children and grandchildren.

What is your biggest regret?

Judy: I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets — I have lived a very full life.

Robert: It’s not a regret I think about — but I suppose I could have taken more advantage of those opportunities when I easily could have seen something new, be it a new city or a new museum or a new play. I always wanted to come home right away after business trips to be with my family, but looking back I am sure there were moments when I could have adjusted my schedule a bit, even if just for a few hours or a day, and could have seen more of the world while I had the chance.

If you had your 30-year old body back and a free Saturday with nothing on your schedule, what would you do?

Judy:  I always loved when your grandfather and I would go to our local club and go dancing. I would like to go dancing again.

Robert: My 30-year -old body? Well it would depend on who I was with and what time of the day it was!

Judy: Bob!

What is your favorite memory of your mothers?

Robert:  I remember my mother coming in each night to give me a kiss goodnight.

Judy: I loved watching my mother bake Christmas cookies. She was a widow during the Depression and worked during the day, but she would stay up all night to make sure we had a beautiful Christmas.

Robert: You’ll find, at some point, there comes a time when you end up taking care of the person who always took care of you. And you shouldn’t fear that day – you should appreciate it and look forward to it.

Most of us in our twenties and thirties are constantly worrying — about dating, about jobs, about money, about the future. What advice would you give?

Robert:  I have complete empathy with your group, because I remember exactly what it feels like to be that age. The challenges you face these days may be different than our generation, but they are still challenges. In the Navy, we had a guidebook called The Bluejackets Manual — and there was a line in it that said, “For all your days be prepared, and meet them ever alike. When you are the anvil, bear — when you are the hammer, strike.” In other words, there will always be bad times, and when they come, you bear them and keep going. And when the good times return, you need to enjoy them.

Judy: Life is fun. Be yourself, enjoy life, enjoy your friends — enjoy the moment.

Robert: And do what you can to make people smile. Smiling faces always find a welcome.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 18 posts on Borderstan.

Thompson originally hails from Louisville, Kentucky – where hats and horses go hand in hand. He spent his collegiate and graduate school years in North Carolina, London and Paris, before moving to DC in 2006. An embarrassing Anglo- and Franco-phile, Scott is generally seen Bikeshare-ing the streets of Borderstan in search of the next best Pimm’s Cup or glass of Côtes du Rhône. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond or email him at thompson[AT]borderstan.com.

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9 Responses to “A Talk with The Greatest Generation: “I Would Like To Go Dancing Again””

  1. Doug says:

    Both of my grandfathers died when I was fairly young, but I was fortunate to have both of my grandmothers for many years. They were trying to raise their children, my parents, during the great depression. Then later my father served and survived World War II, as did many of my cousins of his generation, and my uncles. Yes, these could likely be the greatest generation. My grandmothers shared some nice memories with me growing up. Better act quickly though to get those memories and thoughts from your eders, before some type of demetia sadly takes those memories away.

  2. Sherri says:

    A really nice piece! I like your grandparents. And inspiring to me as my family is about to gather to celebrate a big anniversary for my parents, so we’ll get them to share some memories.

  3. K. says:

    Inspiring words!

  4. Kathi Ley says:

    After spending the last two weeks with out of town family, I love that you put my thoughts into words. Thanks Scott for the beautiful memories!!

  5. David Thompson says:

    As the father of Scott, and the son of Bob and Judy, the pride and honor I had reading this blog is impossible to describe! Thanks Scott.

  6. perry says:

    thanks scott robert. it always good to appreciate poeple while they are with you and to tell them you love them while you can.

  7. Luis says:

    Beautiful piece. Thank you Scott.

  8. Regina says:

    Sending it to my grandmother right now. A fantastic piece. And what a fantastic couple!

  9. Joel says:

    One of the most striking, moving, and memorable things I have read in a long time, anywhere. Thank You.

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