I'm a mixture of several generations," Paula Alexander Gilmore explained. "I don’t quite fit completely in any of them.
"My parents were both born late in their parent’s lives, and I was born later in my parents’ lives. I never knew if I was an ‘accident’ or ‘planned,’ because we didn’t talk of such things in our home.
"So even though I am ‘just’ in my mid-forties, my grandparents were all born in the 1800s, my parents grew up during the Depression of the 1930s, and my Daddy served in the Army in the Philippines during World War II.
"My parents were older than most of my classmate’s parents. I can remember one of my classmates asking me who ‘that old man was’ at a school function my parents attended."
With the economy being turned upside down (Paula herself was recently laid off from her job as a Child Nutrition Director for Head Start), morals sometimes seemingly thrown to the winds and "nothing certain but uncertainty," Paula’s ties to the lessons learned from a simpler life and a simpler time are serving her and her family well.
Paula and her husband, Philip, have children Rebekah, 17, a Senior; John, 15, a ninth grader; Grace, 13, an 8th grader; and Mary Jewel, 9, a fourth grader, all students at Oneonta Schools.
Her family lives on the Daniel family home place on the last small section of city land that was once her mother’s family’s farm. The Daniel Shopping Center to the rear was so named when the land was bought from her grandparents, Charlie Ray and Otha Daniel, in the late 1960s.
Paula is beginning to write stories about her parents and grandparents to honor them and to preserve some of the truths and principles they lived by so her children and someday her grandchildren and beyond can understand the strengths vital to keeping our families and our country intact.
Something as simple as a "wet washcloth" illustrates preparedness and responsibility for taking care of yourself and your own family. Both her parents died at fairly young ages: her mother, Maudine "Dean" Daniel Alexander, at age 63 from a heart attack in 1989 and her father, William Roie "Punkin" Alexander, in a tractor accident just behind her home in 2001 when he was 78.
Paula wrote, "As a product of the Depression, always ‘being prepared’ was my Mother’s motto. Whether it was a Girl Scout outing or a vacation she ALWAYS had a wet washcloth in a plastic bag tucked in her purse ‘just in case.’ I reckon most any problem can be solved with a wet washcloth!"
But Mrs. Maudine was prepared in other ways as well.
Paula noted, "I can recall one time in particular that our Philadelphia Baptist Church Youth Group had traveled to Six Flags over Georgia after being told erroneously that they would take a church check to pay for all our tickets. As we all waited in line unsure of what would happen next, my mother came walking up to the front of the line holding a $100 bill. I can assure you those weren’t floating freely around our house! Who would have thought my no-nonsense Mother would ever save the day at Six Flags!"
Roie worked for more than 30 years on machinery and then driving a forklift at Blue Bell, later the Wrangler Plant, in Oneonta. Every year for the life of the plant, it closed for two weeks around the Fourth of July to give all employees a vacation.
"I can remember Mother would bring the big, red suitcase out, pack it full and we would head down to Panama City Beach. We would stay at a motel across the street from the beach with a kitchenette and ate all of our meals in. But hey, it was a vacation," Paula laughed.
"I just had to have that old red suitcase when we were going through their things after their deaths. Every time I open it, I can smell the bars of soap Mother tucked in the big, silky, black, side pockets to keep it fresh-smelling and it makes me think of those good trips going to Florida."
When Paula, her sister, Robin Hackworth, and brother, Doyle Alexander, who lives at the Alexander homeplace atop Straight Mountain, were going through their parents’ things after Roie died, they were constantly reminded of their folks’ lifestyle of being ready for whatever their family needed, from saving EVERY outfit each of the children had EVER worn, to keeping a small, metal box containing each of Maudine’s valued hair pins.
Paula wrote, "I don’t think I realized how much I idolized my Daddy until after I lost him. He didn’t possess a lot of book knowledge, but knew how to do anything that needed doing on the farm, from growing a beautiful three-acre garden year after year, to cutting firewood and laying it by to season, to tinkering on his beloved John Deere tractor.
"Not many people of my generation have this kind of self-sustaining knowledge. We ate what Daddy grew and Mother spent hours upon hours canning and freezing for the winter months. Any surplus would be taken into Oneonta to sell.
"Daddy would come in from work and head out to the garden, working until dark drove him back inside….often bringing me an armful of sweet honeysuckle.
"He worked six days a week, but never on Sunday… my parents did not leave their religion at the church door on Sunday, but they lived it seven days a week.
"I had to give up my parents earlier in life than most people, but, oh, how blessed I was in the years I had them!
"They taught me that there is a richness to be had in faith, family and friends that no amount of money can buy.
"In these hard times, I think we could all learn something from these people of the Greatest Generation on frugality, the value of a hard day’s work and always treating others the way you would want to be treated."
Paula concluded by noting, "What I would give for just one more bouquet of honeysuckle from my daddy’s hands!"
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.