October 21, 2019

Looking Back and Forward

Today, I am celebrating my birthday. I don’t feel as old as the calendar says but then again who needs calendars. I have seen a lot in my days. We have a lot of great technological advances today but our society is not as strong nor stable as it was when I was born many years ago. Our Catholic faith seems under attack daily and does not seems to play as prominent role as it did 75 years ago. Our priests do not seem to hold the same level of respect as they did many years ago. Church attendance is sporadic and Catholic schools are fast disappearing. Years ago, divorce was rare; men married women and people were stronger as their families meant more to them.

When I was born, there was no TV, people talked and listened to the radio, sat on their porch and communicated. Now, I have to yell at my grandkids as they have become fixated with their cell phone. Cell phone is a misnomer for it is used for everything except making telephone calls. Who ever heard of a “selfie” up until some techie decided that taking a picture of yourself was cool?

When I was born our country had just come through one of the Greatest Depressions in its history. My parents suffered from what was called “Depressionitis.” They lived from week to week. My mother told me that in 1940 when she was walking back from the grocery store, she had $12.40 in her purse. That was all the money they had. It is hard to believe today that $50,000 dollar incomes are close to poverty wages.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President when I was born and Pope Pius XII was in Rome. The Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor yet but the war was raging in Europe. My mother was an expert in preparing meals. We had literally hundreds of versions of what was called “hash.” Hash consisted of mixing together whatever was left from prior meals. Nothing was wasted. I can’t believe the meals that my son and his family eat today. Cost is no object and the grandkids get whatever they want. My grandson eats clams while his sister eats sushi.

Jobs, taxes, and even our beloved Federal Government have also changed. We as a country are so far in debt that it amazes me that we are still able to get by. I can’t envision a trillion dollars in my mind much less nineteen trillion dollars of debt. And still, we as a country, want more? Years ago it was a blemish on your records if you accepted any sort of handout. You got a job, worked hard, and saved your money. I don’t remember ever seeing a credit card until the late sixties. Now we operate on credit for just about everything. My son makes a good living and prides himself in carrying no cash at all.

My parents had no debt as who would loan them money? They rented their “flat” or the lower level of a two story house and every few weeks the coal truck would arrive with its “9 yards.” The truck was divided into three parts of 3 yards of coal in each section. If you bought all three, you got the “whole 9 yards.” My dad and mother did not own a car partly due to World War II when there was gasoline rationing. Tires were impossible to get and all automotive production ceased in 1942 to build tanks and airplanes.

My wife and I have been married 50 years and our family has a history of long marriages. I heard a guy the other day who said that he had been married 25 years and laughed saying that it had taken 3 wives to do it. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the breakdown or fragmentation of our society today. Divorce is common; men “marry” men and women “marry” women; we have to respect the rights of gays and transgender people but, it seems that if you are heterosexual today, the media makes you feel as though you are in the minority. Everyone seems to have “rights” even if they conflict with the rights of someone else. Drug use today is a big deal. The more money you have, the more drugs that you are exposed to.

I am not sure how many more birthdays that I will celebrate. I have seen a lot in my lifetime, some good and some not so good. In a way, I look back with some very good memories. Looking forward today is kind of scary. There does not seem to be the same type of security that existed years ago. Only time will tell.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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Written by Donald Wittmer
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