Yesterday I posted a letter in Facebook that my mother wrote to me a few years before she passed. There she shared (at my request) some memories about her childhood and youth. Surprisingly to me, many of the comments that some of my friends wrote, about that post, described my mother as “amazing”. I assume that the reason, which prompted the use of this adjective in describing my mother, were the hardships that she had to go through her younger years in Europe, during the First World War, in the farm where she was raised and during her first years as an immigrant in Argentina.
But, was my mother really amazing? Although I remember her as a kind, loving, honest, wise and hard working woman, among other positive attributes she possessed, I can’t think of her as amazing. She was part of a generation that, depending of where born, suffered the consequences of war, revolutions, famines, epidemics, economic depressions and, in its majority, had to make do with few resources and comforts. Think of it: in the first quarter of the 20th century, most people working the land had no tractors or other agricultural machinery, no fertilizers or powerful insecticides. In many places, if you had a cow or a horse and a cart you were considered wealthy. They lived without electricity or running water, and had to use an outhouse to relieve themselves.
If you had a job in a factory, you were expected to work 12 hours a day and at least 6 days a week. Nobody then dreamed about a vacation or sick leave. You probably lived in a tenement house (or similar accommodations), which was all too often cramped, poorly lit, freezing cold in winter and steaming hot in summer, and lacked indoor plumbing and proper ventilation.
Life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was 47 years (and in many other countries it was much lower). The mortality rate of children then was about 1 in 5. Again, in many other countries that rate was even greater. As an example, my grandmother, in Poland, had 11 children and 3 died before they reached the age of 5.
Those in Europe that were able to survive war, famines, pogroms and poverty, and were lucky enough to emigrate to the Americas (North and South), faced in many occasions discrimination and prejudices, as well as new hardships. But, they toiled the land, worked in factories, learned new languages, send their kids to school and made a better lives for themselves. And those, who stayed in the Old Country, faced new upheavals (Nazism, Fascism and Communism), another World War, the Holocaust and so much more. But they too, if they survived these calamities, rebuild their lives.
Was it surprising then that people born in the first decades of the 20th century, developed a resilience that many today find amazing? Of course, they do. Now with all the comforts and privileges that we enjoy in these modern times, it is difficult to envision that less than a century ago, these advantages didn’t exist and people had to do all those “amazing” things. I’m sure that many millennials can’t imagine not living in an era without airplanes, flat screen TVs, computers, mobile phones, internet, air conditioning, cars that soon may drive themselves, etc. My own generation, probably can not phantom not having electricity, running water, heat, movies, decent medical care, etc. (Sadly there are so many that still don’t have them), so we admire – and very rightly so – those who preceded us in life for their tenacity.
So, perhaps my mother was an “amazing” woman, but among many millions more. However, more than that, she was an admirable one. That’s for sure!