If she were alive today, my mother would be saying "I told you so!" or "Here we go again!" Known as Grandma Helen to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and "Dr. Frank" to her psychotherapy patients, she zeroed in on the sore points, told it like it was, and challenged authority at every turn. She would have been an avid HuffPost50 blogger. Get this...
While searching for an item in my desk drawers recently, I found a folded-up page that had been ripped out of an old New York City-area newspaper called the Senior Summary. The date was March or April, 1992. On one side were two articles: a story about a senior Scrabble champion and another about a musical duo who performed at senior centers. Nothing unusual there. When I turned the page over, however, I got quite a surprise.
A sticky note from my mother was affixed to the top of the Senior to Senior column from twenty years ago: "Hi," it said, "hope this reflects some of our ruminations over the dinner table." Below the note I saw a photo of my mother and the title of her full-page article: "What's Happened to the American Dream???" (Yes, there were three question marks.) Startled, I began to read about recession, what she called "the uncharted territory of stagnation," and its debilitating effect on parents and young people. Well-educated young college graduates were unemployed, especially those without marketable skills, and they were doubtful about their future chances. Dreams of upward mobility for the next generation were being shattered. Children of the middle class were facing the same disappointment as people who had been laid off. College student loans were terribly burdensome. Adult children were moving back home and this was "playing havoc" with family relationships. And, she concluded with a damning assessment, "The magic of the college degree has been blighted by an economic reality created by deficits, bank failures, financial frauds, and poor government."
Ancient history? Absolutely not! I was reading a twenty-year old column that could easily have been discussing economic conditions today. My mother didn't have a crystal ball telling her how things would be in 2012. What she had at age 79 was a keen intelligence, a nose for human foibles and family stress and a sharp eye for socio-economic and political trends. She also had sharp words for politicians and friends she disapproved of or disagreed with.
In 1988, C-SPAN host Brian Lamb described my mother as "The Poetic Psychologist" in America's Town Hall (Washington, DC: Acropolis Books Ltd.) and included in her profile a poetic tribute she had sent to the cable network. In it, she spoke for many loyal C-SPAN viewers who were appalled or fascinated by congressional hearings featuring temperamental outbursts over budget cuts, legislators moaning about the weight of the deficit and violent debates about tax increases. The lines she penned to C-SPAN some 25 years ago could be describing the endless number of political impasses with which we are all too familiar today.
My mother's C-SPAN profile went on to explain that the show piqued her interest in politics and that writing was a way of helping her come to terms with retirement and aging. It quoted her as saying that C-SPAN-viewing "enhances my endemically argumentative nature and didactic tendencies." (I couldn't have put it better myself!)
Re-reading my mother's Senior Summary article after so many years has reminded me of what her argumentative nature and didactic tendencies often obscured: a gift or talent for hitting the nail on the head. And, as I sit here blogging -- in my case it's about aging vis à vis work and retirement -- I imagine how much she would have enjoyed blogging for HuffPost50 had she lived to see it, especially with the presidential election just around the corner and the American Dream in jeopardy for so many.
I guess the apple didn't fall so far from the tree.
Dr. Fideler's new book, Women Still at Work -- Professionals Over Sixty and On the Job (2012) is available from Rowman & Littlefield: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442215504 . She's now studying older men who are choosing work over retirement. To participate in her survey of older working men, email her at email@example.com or contact her on Facebook.