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Beam: When will we be united again?

Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 3:51 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Most of us have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but something usually surfaces above everything else. For me, the highlight of 2013 has been reaching the age of 80.

Those who have lived that long and longer will probably say it’s no big deal. However, my parents and three of my siblings weren’t so fortunate, and I still miss the joy and inspiration each of them brought to my life over the years we were together.

Living 80 years has its advantages and its shortcomings, but it’s still something to be cherished. And the odds of making it to 90 are better today than ever.

The Pew Research Center conducted a poll back in the summer, asking those surveyed if they would like to live to be 120. Most — 56 percent — said no thanks. However, two-thirds of them said they expect most other people might want to try to reach that age.

Pew said most Americans think the ideal life span is between 79 and 100, with the median answer being 90 years. The cardiologist who treats my wife and me said he thinks we have a chance of joining his 90 club, and here’s hoping he’s right.

Americans today definitely have it better than their parents and grandparents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said life expectancy for men in 1900 was 46.3 years. For women, it was 48.3 years. The numbers have climbed through the years, and today’s life expectancy is 81 for women and 76.2 for men.

And what are some of the advantages of living longer? You remember things that other folks can’t. Those who are my age, for example, are children born of the Great Depression. We were all poor, but didn’t know it. And maybe that’s because so many people were in the same boat.

Most of us worked part-time when we were in our early teens, and we came to appreciate the value of money and spending it wisely. The U.S. Wage and Hour Division wasn’t created until 1938, so age wasn’t a factor for holding a job. The minimum wage was 40 cents an hour, and it wasn’t increased until 1949 when it climbed to 75 cents. Today, it’s $7.25 an hour.

We learned a lot from my dad who had been handicapped since age 6 because of polio. We never saw him as any different from any other dad. He taught by example and insisted we be accountable for everything we did and to give life the best we could muster.

My mother was my inspiration for getting the best education possible, and it has paid rewards I could have never imagined in my early years. She was also the rock on which we built our Christian faith that has helped us make it many times through troubled waters.

Christianity and patriotism were a big part of many American lives. They helped us learn to respect the lives and faiths of others and gain a deep appreciation for and love of country.

First graders got 12-inch rulers with the quote, “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” (See Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). Those rulers have become rare in today’s society with its overemphasis on political correctness.

World War II began in our early years, and our military men and women fought and died to make the world a better place. That is why they have come to be known as “The Greatest Generation.” Those on the homefront took over the jobs the troops left behind, and did their part to help win the war. We have seen their numbers dwindle down to a precious few.

Three of our greatest presidents led us during those challenging times and got us through another war in Korea. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower left their indelible marks on the American landscape.

We forged some lifelong friendships during our high school and college years and served tours in the military, an experience that helped fortify us for the challenges to come. We married, had children and began the work that would consume much of our time and energy. Our children benefited from our experiences, and we tried to set good examples for them to follow.

One of our darkest hours came on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The nation just marked the 50th anniversary of that fateful day. Those of us who were 30 at the time had pinned our hopes on the young and vibrant president, but our dreams were shattered that fateful day in Dallas.

The nation survived somehow, but the presidency lost some of its glory during the years that followed. Ronald Reagan was an exception. He helped us recapture that sense of patriotism and love of country that we had lost during the Vietnam War years.

We went on to build rewarding careers that helped us live life to the fullest and capture our part of the American dream. Our grandchildren came along later in life, and they enriched our lives beyond measure.

I wouldn’t trade the 80 years I’ve enjoyed in the greatest country in the world for anything else life has to offer. Unfortunately, too many in our country have lost their sense of national pride because they have forgotten the principles on which this country was founded.

It is my prayer this Thanksgiving that I live long enough to see the day when we can all sing “God Bless America” together with real conviction and a sense of purpose. The world needs our leadership that has served it so well in the past.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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