Dreams and My Fathers

Of history and hope.

The other night, I had a dream of a most unusual and moving sort.

It wasn't especially vivid, nor did it inspire me to write scripture, you'll be glad to hear.  But it was the kind of dream that, for a time, overwrote all memory of reality - such that on awakening, it took several minutes to reconnect with the real world.

The dream was straightforward enough - I was back in college, walking the campus, collecting my proper due as a respected upperclassman.  Nothing overly unique or, normally, particularly memorable.

No, the strange thing was that, unlike most dreams, I forgot that it was a dream.  I was there, in college, in the 90s.

Why does this matter?  Because it's been so many, many hard years, I'd forgotten what it felt like during America's "Holiday from History."  We had total confidence that of course we'd be successful people - after all, wasn't everybody?

There was no 9-11 or Islam to frighten us.  There were no Obama socialist czars or scruffy throngs shouting "Bush lied, thousands died."  America's political class was preoccupied with a stained blue dress - sordid and shameful enough, but in the grand global scheme of things, of no relevance whatsoever.  New miracles emerged from American businesses on a daily basis, and America's ever-feckless government mostly left them alone.

To sum up: I remembered, for the first time in a very long time, what it is to not be existentially afraid - afraid of a permanently destroyed economy, afraid of an ever-growing and ever-more-totalistic government, afraid that all we love about America is desperately threatened by our ruling elites' misguided illusions of what America should be.  For one bright shining moment, I was young again and the world was a glorious place.

It isn't anymore, is it?  Or at least it doesn't seem so.

Dreams of My Father

My father was in college in the 1960s.  This era has been brought home to today's younger set who don't remember it, via the vivid storytelling of such shows as Mad Men and Pan Am.

No doubt they gloss over unpleasant details, but it's a fact that the 1960s were a grand time to be young and American.  Uncle Sam ruled the world as a colossus and actually seemed halfway competent most of the time.  Sure, there were scares and sad events - Kennedy's assassination and the Cuban Missile Crisis come to mind - but mostly things went well, and the occasional ripple in the pond passed on quickly.

My father and his peers looked out over a fantastic new vista of technology that previous generations could barely have even dreamed of, with the new technology of "computers" offering unimaginable new powers, products, and profits for those with the imagination and panache to reach out and grasp them.

My Father's Nightmares

They could not know what would happen in just a few short years: the race riots, Watergate, the oil crisis, Carter's stagflation, the end of colonialism and the return of barbarism to much of Africa and Asia.

But then, they also couldn't know of Reagan's Morning in America or the fall of the Berlin Wall, even if a few visionaries had vague imaginings of something that might someday be called a PC or an iPod.

As he nears the twilight of his career, my father never reached the great riches of some of his peers, nor the broken homes and personal grief of so many others.  He was always comfortable, though, through good times and bad, through anxiety and confidence, for richer, for poorer - and that's so much more than can be said of any other time in history or most other places.  In short: 99.9999% of all human beings who'd ever lived would gladly change places with him, or with any other American of his era.  Many do, either legally or illegally.

Dreams of My Father's Father

But what of his father?  My grandfather was of a well-off family, so even during the Depression while in college he was "comfortable" which in those days meant rich.  No doubt he had fellow-scholars not so lucky, who had to leave in mid-semester due to their father losing his job, his company, or his farm.

A pundit writing in 1933 could surely say, with all objective validity, "This current rising generation looks likely to be the first who will be less well off than their parents."  Serious people seriously argued that President Franklin Roosevelt not merely could but must assume dictatorial powers, as they seemed to be the only way to address an economy utterly stalled; hey, it was working great for Mussolini and Hitler, wasn't it?  The American way of life seemed, and quite possibly was, truly threatened as never before.

What is more, ten years on the same pundit could have said the same thing.  Yes, by 1943 the Depression as such was over and unemployment was just a bitter memory, but that was because every man who could tote a gun was overseas dying to defend America.  Victory came at last - and then the 1948 recession, and the Korean War.

What must my grandfather's cohort have though of the future?  They had every legitimate, objective reason for the deepest despair.

They couldn't know that just around the corner would come the greatest period of peace, wealth, freedom and expansion of every good kind that history has ever known.  Today the last remnants of the Greatest Generation enjoy comforts and wealth beyond the most feverish imagination of their parents.

Dreams Even Older

When my mother was a small girl, down the street was a decaying mansion occupied by a very elderly and lonely lady who took a shine to her.  This old lady told my mother stories of when she was small, peeking 'round the top corner of the grand staircase to watch the dancing couples in the ballroom below, at the great parties before they left for what would surely be a quick and glorious thrashing of Johnny Reb.

Now that was a grim time, and surely her parents must have feared for the life that little girl would lead - but being born in 1858, witnessing the Civil War, and dying in the late 1950s, what miracles she witnessed!  The transcontinental railroad, the birth of the automobile, then commercial air travel.  The telephone, the television, and Earth satellites.  Born in a time when most Americans worked a small farm by hand, she would have died in a nation fed by a handful using powerful machines so the rest of us could do something more pleasant and interesting.

Not Politics, but People

What has this to do with politics?  Nothing, and everything.  The politics of each era seem so vitally important to those involved, and oftentimes they truly are important - but it's the great forward force of throngs of ordinary American people that makes America what it's always been.  That's why we're so concerned at efforts to dissolve the American people and elect another, by untrammeled illegal immigration.  Even so, there's still a lot more Americans here than there are Everything Else.

It'll be a while before America the idea disappears entirely, no matter how hard the New York Times, the NEA, the AFL-CIO, and the Obama administration try to paint over the American Ideal.  The more layers of mud they slap on, the more brightly and quickly the true colors burn back through.

Oh, we need to fight, and it can be a struggle to take care of daily life in these dark times.  It's been worse, though, and it'll be better again eventually.  It always is; that's what "history" consists of, and why the Clintonian "Holiday from History" was doomed to end as holidays always do, in yet another Monday Morning hangover.

Just as holidays always come to an end, so do prison terms and shifts in the salt mine.  Obama delivered anything but Hope and (helpful) Change, but that doesn't mean Hope and Change are hopeless or changeless.  We'll find them once we start looking in the right place.

The Americans will always do the right thing… after they have exhausted all the alternatives.

 - Winston Churchill

We've pretty darned near exhausted all the silly alternatives our elites can propose.  Just hang in there, just fight on a little longer, that's all.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

What a great story. I wanted to hear more about each generation as you were writing. Sounds like yours is a family with a lot of history, character and pride.

You're right about waiting it out. America's best days are before her. Hold the line!

November 7, 2011 1:22 PM

@Dave - there's a story at


I knew a midsize businessman who had a couple of hundred employees during the Depression. He worked extremely had to keep his factory open and take care of his people. There were layoffs and he barely broke even, but he kept many employed.

His reward? To be called bad names for years, as one of the evil rich people who had caused the Depression.

His feelings about Roosevelt were so strong that for the rest of his life, local shopkeepers knew to examine their coins so they wouldn't give him a Roosevelt dime. "I won't have that man's picture in my pocket!" he'd exclaim, and stay away from the store for weeks until he cooled down.

November 7, 2011 5:44 PM
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