As we approach the on 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I think to myself how recent it was, but just how different life was; or was it?
My great-Grandmom was born in 1912, one month after the sinking and she only passed away two years ago. Her little sister is still kickin’ at ninety-eight and there are several people alive today that are well over one hundred now. Think about the transitions they’ve made in life. We laugh about teased hair from the 80’s and disco music at Studio 54 but this older generation changed fashion, music and pretty much everything life had to offer, repeatedly.
It wasn’t that long ago that women wore corsets, couldn’t vote and got picked up for a date in a Model T. Most people who served in WWII were born about ten years after the Titanic sank, and just like that generation, soon they will be gone as well. We only just lost the last WWI soldier in the last year.
It put it in perspective for me when our little town newspaper mentioned that a Titanic survivor lived a couple little towns over. He was the head barber for the White Star Line, who operated the Titanic. The man journeyed over seven hundred times on transatlantic ships and nearly perished that night in the cold waters of the Atlantic. The article touts him a hero, who assisted the crew as they tried to get as many as they could to safety in the few lifeboats available. He was eventually swept off the ships edge when it split in two and after clinging to dining chairs in the water, he was picked up by a lifeboat which was half full of water anyway. They say when he got back to New Jersey days later, it was in a wheelchair and his legs were puddy-gray and without feeling from deep frostbite. A local farmer suggested that he try covering them with a concoction of, forgive me, chicken manure, that he used when his chickens got frostbitten feet in the winter. It worked within hours and August Weikman walked again and the threat of amputation has passed. It turns out that he was an inventor and important individual to my area, and I pass his house regularly and had no idea.
That was a hearty generation. Like so many others before them, they suffered through so many tragedies without the advancements of today. I wonder what the future children will say of us. I bet we will look petty, unless the whiney culture we have perpetuates itself. There is always something offensive to someone, it seems. Will our claim to fame be that we’ve created dozens or hundreds of laws to prevent peoples’ feelings from being hurt, while we slowly take the freedoms of living away? There is always someone to complain about the way something is decided, and for things that are really unimportant. Was it always that way?
My Grandmom’s favorite motto was, “Turn the other cheek”. Though this could be infuriating at times, it didn’t make her a wuss, but it did make her less stressed, less worrisome, as she went through a life that included hardships like poverty, sickness, death and animosity. It was amazing to me that the woman I became close to wore little 1900’s dresses and those little boot shoes with the twenty or so buttons that you needed a hook to fasten (yes an exaggeration) and ended up living the last of her years in 1970’s polyester flares. She lived in a time when it was ok to sit your baby outside in the stroller so they could get air and vitamin D, while she did chores in the house; in what are now the worst areas of Philadelphia. I could go on about how different life was, and end up further off track, but this is likely to be revisited.
So Saturday, as news affiliates around the world mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I think of the people who lived such very different lives as we did and those who hoped to find a new life here but were stowed away in 3rd class; the wealthy who had already made a difference and what else they might have accomplished; and how for each generation, time eventually perpetuates a moment that we as a society will never forget.
On a side note, I can’t help but wonder if the capsized boat in Italy was handled that much better than the Titanic 99 years later. Perhaps it was more organized and there were more boats, but we still rely on humans and their desires to help others. What do you think?