A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
A MILLER WITHOUT A MILL
My Grandpa Walker was a statistic.
You wouldnít know his name. You probably never heard of him. But you heard about him, and thousands Ė maybe millions Ė of others just like him.
Grandpa lost everything during Americaís Great Depression Era of the 1930s. He lost his flour mill. He lost his home. But perhaps more important, he lost his pride and his dignity. He never talked much about how it made him feel to have to move in with his eldest son because he couldnít take care of his family any more. But those who knew him before and after said it took a terrible toll on his heart and his soul.
America eventually recovered from that period of financial crisis (say what you will about world-wide war, but itís a heck of a way to stimulate a stumbling economy). Grandpa, however, never did. He held other jobs through the years, but he considered himself a miller until the day he died at age 90.
A miller without a mill.
And that meant something was always missing for Grandpa. Always.
I donít remember a lot about my Grandpa Walker, to tell you the truth. We werenít exactly what you would call close. The main thing I remember from the few visits we had is him sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee and not saying much Ė even when I asked dumb questions (we should have known right then that I was headed for a career in journalism).
"Grandpa, why is your nose so big?"
"Itís the Walker nose," he said, touching a finger to his somewhat prominent proboscis. "Look at your dad. He has it too."
Indeed he did. So, come to think of it, did several of my brothers and sisters. But I didnít. And I didnít think that was very fair.
"Why donít I have it?" I wanted to know. "Does that mean Iím not a Walker?"
"Thatís an Arrowsmith nose," he said, pinching my stout little schnoz playfully, "so youíre probably more Arrowsmith. And thatís probably lucky. Look at your Grandpa Arrowsmith."
Grandpa Arrowsmith was short and bald, so that didnít seem like such a great thing to me at the time. But in retrospect, that probably wasnít what Grandpa Walker was talking about. Grandpa Arrowsmith was not a wealthy man, but he had a successful career and had always had work Ė even through the Depression. And to Grandpa Walker, that was all that mattered.
Iíve been thinking about that recently, with all of the ups and downs on Wall Street. I wonder how it would affect me if economic turmoil suddenly wiped out my livelihood and forced me to move in with one of my adult children. I hope I never find out (and so, I assure you, do my adult children). But even if it comes to that, I hope I have learned that a personís worth has little to do with dollars and cents, and that dignity doesnít come from what we do as much as it comes from who we are.
Statistics not withstanding.
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--- © Joseph Walker
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