Sunday, March 13, 2022

March 2022: A Millennial's Lament


In 1967, on the occasion of my first Christmas with my new husband, Ed, the best man at our wedding, and my husband, Alex, went through photos, trying to select the image that best captured the event. Alex told me later that Ed was looking at a photo of Alex kissing me at the reception. Watching us, on the far left of the photo, was an older man with a quizzical look on his face. "I could crop him out," Ed suggested to Alex. "Ed," Alex replied, "If you crop him out, my marriage is over." How well my husband knew me, even though we were married 30 days after meeting. The older man was my paternal grandfather and I adored him. He could do no wrong. And yet, when I read a Facebook post by my granddaughter this evening, I realized how little I know about him. 

I don't have the wedding photo any more (don't ask), but I do have two photos of Grandpa Shephard and me. The first photo, at the beginning of this blog, was taken when I was about 18 months old. He had just gotten home from work at Westinghouse Electric Company in East Pittsburgh. He is dressed in a suit (usually brown) and still wearing his hat. I am in play clothes. The second photo was taken on Easter Sunday in 1956. He's 60 and I'm 15. 


My granddaughter, born in 1993, recently posted that Millennials like her already have lived through Y2K, 9/11, a plague that has caused the loss of more than seven million people worldwide, local conflicts that have caused the displacement of millions more from their birthplaces and relocation to new countries and cultures, two economic recessions, and the looming effects of global warming. 

They are facing a possible WW3 much more devastating than the first two.

Well, kids. Welcome to the Twenties! 


My paternal grandmother, Loretta Moran, and grandfather, Harry Shephard, were photographed [above] enjoying a lovely day at a Westinghouse employees' picnic in 1912. My grandfather was about 20 years old, Loretta was two years older. Her brother, John, and my grandfather were both employees at the Westinghouse plant in East Pittsburgh. 

Loretta's father died shortly afterwards in February 1913. Her brother John died on April 12, 1913, from either appendicitis or an accident while playing football. She and Grandpa were married 10 days later, on April 22, 1913. Their first child, John, was born on May 31, 1914. Their second, Sarah Regina, was born on June 8, 1916, and died of a bronchial condition on December 30, 1917. My father was born six months after his sister's death, on June 25, 1918. Loretta died on December 15, 1918, also of a bronchial condition -- probably Spanish flu. 

My grandfather was already familiar with loss. He was not even four years old when his father died suddenly in August 1896, leaving his widow with two boys -- my grandfather born in December 1892 and his little brother, Samuel, born in 1894 -- and another boy on the way who was born in December 1896 and named for his father. In February 1899, their mother married a bachelor farmer thirteen years her senior and produced ten children over the next nineteen years, eight of whom survived to adulthood. My father's youngest half-aunt was born a month before he was.

About the time the photo above was taken, my grandfather's two sons were split by the Allegheny County Court between their grandparents -- my Uncle Jack living with his mother's Catholic family and my father living with his Protestant 80-year-old great-grandmother [left in the photo above] on the Shephard/Craft farm until his father remarried the only paternal grandmother I ever knew in March 1924. After Grandma Shephard had my half-uncle Kenny in 1925, my father was finally reunited with his father.

When my grandfather retired from Westinghouse, he had risen to Supervisor of the Blueprint Department. Doesn't sound very important until you realize that nothing was manufactured at Westinghouse, even a nail, that didn't have its beginning in a blueprint.

I have felt since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic that the 2020s are shaping up to be not much different from the 1920s, a decade of financial and emotional ups and downs, the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic, trying to avoid another world war. Some things that happened in 1922: The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated; Readers Digest started publishing; and, most significantly, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was created in December 1922 and was not broken up until 1991. 

Look at Russia on a World Map. No matter which view you prefer, Russia is HUGE.

The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world by land mass, most of it in the far north, an area that is becoming more habitable as global warming melts the ice and snow. 

Perhaps Vlad is trying to recreate 1922 with visions of Russia ruling the world by 2122. Wonder how China feels about that?

Grandpa Shephard retired to Florida with Grandma. They lived near my Uncle Kenny's family. Grandpa died on May 18, 1970. 

A strange coincidence: I recently spent five days in Houston's Methodist Hospital recovering from pneumonia. When Grandpa died I was hospitalized for two weeks with pneumonia so severe my temperature was over 105 degrees when admitted. The drugs were so strong that I couldn't remember that he had been sick and died until after I was released from the hospital. I was, and still am, devastated, which, as my granddaughter knows, means I don't ever talk about it, until now.

My message to the Millennials: The sun sets, the sun rises. Like Grandpa Shephard and the Ukrainians, all we can do is survive. 

Grandpa was a quiet man who seldom spoke of anything personal. An avid photographer, he spent most of his time in the basement, tinkering with his "inventions" and short-wave radios. He showed all my beaux a "copy machine" he had invented.

Despite all his losses, Grandpa was a kind man who loved his family dearly, if quietly. 

Is there any better epitaph than that?