October 13th, 2008
06:07 PM ET

Erica’s News Note: The ears have it

Erica Hill
AC360° Correspondent

One of my goals this year was to be a better listener. It’s not always easy, yet I learn so much just by keeping quiet. I am fascinated by people’s lives and their paths to the lives they create. It is the “average Joe” – six-pack optional – who always seems to have the most interesting story, not the celebrity du jour on the cover of the gossip rags.

Today, the stories of real people who we can all learn from, people not unlike the ones who may live next door or down the street: Families and young children, struggling to survive, taking life-threatening jobs to keep food in their stomach. Grandparents, opening up about the horrors of war, and the love that can grow out of misery. And reminders about just how bad things can get – and how lucky we are – from those who lived through the Great Depression. All are lessons that never grow old, and that we could miss if we don’t stop to listen.

I want to warn you the images and the details of this next story are disturbing. They are heartbreaking. And they are important. The images from Shehzad Noorani tell the tale of the “children of the dust” in Bangladesh. Their reality is documented in the book “What Matters.” Edited by David Elliott Cohen, the collection of photo essays explores environmental, economic and other issues around the world. The photos of the children of the dust will show you what child labor is truly like…and why trying to rid the world of it altogether may not be the answer.

I have always been drawn to stories of World War II, specifically, those of Holocaust survivors. I am in awe of the strength, courage and in so many cases, the forgiveness that the Greatest Generation – both here and abroad – continues to show, decades later. The lessons for us are many, but one man’s final words from his own father may be some of the best and most difficult advice yet: Don’t carry a grudge in your heart and tolerate everybody.

It is amazing how such incomparable beauty can come of such dark times, but the inspirational stories of humanity from every war are many. There are also countless stories of love born out of tragedy. It was Herman Rosenblat’s father who offered those wise words more than half a century ago. The story of Herman and his wife, Roma, is one of loss, sadness, and, ultimately, of a love and a connection that was meant to be; a couple united by the worst of circumstances.  Mr and Mrs Rosenblat recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.

My grandfather was the ultimate packrat. After he passed, my mother, aunt and uncle were cleaning out the basement; they found decades-old cardboard TV boxes, magazines, even coupons. He and my grandmother were smart with their money yet so generous with all of us. Coupons were always a big deal with my Grampa – and still are with my Mom. I admit, I, too LOVE a good bargain – with or without a coupon. But for my Mimi and Grampa, the reasons were different: they grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression. They lived through WWII and rationing. They knew what it was like to truly worry. When I was pregnant, my Mimi told me how she had one maternity dress when she was pregnant with my aunt – one dress. But she probably never complained. She’s an amazing lady, one I love to listen to.

As we hear so many cries of a “second Great Depression”, the lessons of the first one are once again en vogue…lessons we should probably all pay a bit more attention to in the boom times.

Filed under: Erica Hill • Erica's News Note
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Kathy, Chicago

    I love the history of WWII also. My Dad was in the Navy and went into Pearl Harbor to clean up after the attack. I stood with him many years later at the memorial, and we both had tears in our eyes. I do read about the Holocost as well. A time I hope we nevver have to live through again. My parents lived through the great depression, and the stories were tough to listen to. I hope we are not headed there. At least we have football to distract us! The Giants are MNF!

    October 13, 2008 at 10:45 pm |
  2. Jocelyne

    Hello Erica,
    This is such a wonderful post, there is such wisdom & inspiration. like you, i'm trying to be a gd listener. you're right; it's no always easy, but, i'm trying. What caught my attention in the 5th paragraph; the love of Herman & Roma, and the story of yr family, the following para. thank you.
    To Lilibeth: i'd like to take this opportunity to tell you that i read yr comments with pleasure.

    October 13, 2008 at 7:57 pm |
  3. Terra Hoskins

    Hi Erica,

    You know, my grandmother always says, "When you're good, good comes to you." I didn't understand the wisdom of that little saying until my 30s I think. Now I think my grandmother is a genius. Even "there's a lid for every pot" has grown on me.

    One thing that strikes me, too, is how people extend themselves in a crisis. It's like people are just drawn to each other, and they shift into a "how can I help" mindset. That's why I love the idea of the Heroes series. If we really focus on the positive, who knows what other good things will be unleashed in the world?

    October 13, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  4. Bret Peters

    Erica, I am so glad you have touched on how our grandparents have lived through much, much harder times, and have habits based on building a life for us and ours. My 89 yr. old grandpa lives with me, and I am so glad I opened my ears to him! He says " If you can't pay for it , well you don't need it." I had much debt, but taking his advice these past 2 years I only still owe on my student loan. I have no credit cards, and no other debt. I see people driving around in expensive cars (like I had at one time) with a horrible, stressed look on their face. You can't take it with you, but what you teach and leave your family when your gone is a measure of where you heart lives. We struggle from time to time, but thanks to his advice, others will not struggle when I'm gone. Don't you people know if leave this world in personal debt, that debt is now owed by your children ! Stop a moment, look at the world, where we are headed, and if you think it's time for you to turn your life around?

    October 13, 2008 at 7:26 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    My mother grew up during the Great Depression; her family lived in upper East Tennessee and moved to Knoxville looking for work; my grandfather finally found some with the CCC building Fontana Dam in North Carolina. Mother used to tell us the stories of the depression – the things they did without and couldn't afford and how they were the rule rather than the exception. My mother told us stories of WW2 also and then of the 50s. We were always enraptured by her stories; she told them well and I grew up knowing I never wanted to experience a Great Depression.

    After I got married my father in law who fought in WW2 under Patton and was in the Battle of the Bulge and one of the first American troops into Berlin after the Russians went in used to regale me with his war stories. When his mother died and I helped him and his sisters clean out her closets we found hats and dresses and jewelry from the Roaring 20s onward. Listening to them reminisce about this hat or that dress and where they wore it and what they did was an amazing experience.

    You're right Erica – listening is so much better. You hear stories that you could never read in a book – a tapestry of words painted by the individuals who lived the stories and in whose eyes weren't that long ago.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 13, 2008 at 7:22 pm |
  6. Lilibeth

    On the Great Depression… this is one of those times in history that I hope doesn’t repeat itself. This year has truly been historic, in more ways than one. What strikes me is that this crisis seems to have hit us all of a sudden, yet it has been brewing for some time. Bad lending practices, greed…they are insidious and it takes a while to feel their effects. All I can say at this point is I hope there are consequences to the people responsible for this mess so this disaster doesn’t ever happen again.

    Edmonds, Washington

    October 13, 2008 at 6:27 pm |