The Grands

The Grands
"Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children".
--- from the writings of Roots author Alex Haley

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A War, A Memorial, My Dad, and Me

My Dad: Alvin Owen Price
This article originally appeared in The Prices Do DC

Yesterday was the 69th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. I wasn't alive for the original VE Day, but my Father, Alvin Owen Price, was.

My dad, like millions of men of his generation, was a soldier in World War II. He served in the European theater.

And, like most of his contemporaries, he didn't talk much about his war experiences. Over the years, I did learn some things. Never a fan of imposed authority, my dad spent much of his time rising in the Army ranks, only to be busted back down. He joked that he knew more about peeling potatoes on KP than firing his weapon on a battlefield. He was also convinced that the helmet the Army required him to wear made him go bald.

Actually, my dad didn't need to use his weapon much. He was assigned to guard German prisoners-of-war. Every so often, some of the prisoners were flown back to the United States for further questioning. My dad would accompany them. They would fly into an airport near Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was on one of these trips to New Jersey that my story sort of begins.

One of the soldiers in his unit, Joe Falls, was a native of South Jersey. He told my dad that there was a city named Bridgeton about an hour away from Fort Dix that was known for its parties. My dad, never one to miss a chance to party, said that sounded good. So he and Falls obtained a weekend pass and traveled to Bridgeton.

Arriving in town, my dad and his friend headed to the dance hall. This is how my dad described what happened next. They walked in. My dad saw a woman pouring punch. He turned to Joe Falls and said, "See that woman. That is the woman I am going to marry."

That woman was Mary Louise Ivins. She taught school and lived with her parents on a farm about 3 miles from Bridgeton.

Over the next couple of years, Alvin courted Louise. On May 9, 1945, the war in Europe ended. In 1946, my father was discharged from Fort Dix. Shortly thereafter, he married Mary Louise Ivins. In 1952, I was born. In 1972, my father died. Three years ago, after retiring, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, just 3 Metro stops from DC.

And all of that brings us to yesterday, the 69th anniversary of the day the war my dad fought in ended.

One of the great things about living in the DC area is there is so much history here. So I decided to go to the World War II Memorial to pay tribute to all the men and women, but especially my father, who had fought for freedom.

The World War II Memorial
It wasn't my first visit. I'm sure it won't be my last. But it was my first visit on VE Day. I could have gone in the morning when there was a special ceremony honoring World War II veterans. But I wanted a more private, personal experience.

The chairs were still set up from the morning's ceremony, but they were empty now. Those vacant chairs served as a stark reminder that some day in the not-too-distant future there won't be any World War II veterans to fill them. When I was growing up, it seemed that every man I met had fought in that war. They had escaped death on the battlefield, but no amount of courage can keep you from death forever. Today, about 555 World War II veterans die every day. At that rate, you can see that it won't be long until they will all be gone.

For those of you who have never visited the World War II Memorial, if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, it can become hallowed ground.

The monument contains vertical markers of all the states and US territories that sent men and women to serve. I went first to the Texas marker. That was where my father was born, the son of Walter Lee and Zonie Mae Price. My dad's parents were farmers, but the driving winds of the 1930s blew their small farm and their Texas dreams away. So, like the Joad family in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, they loaded up their truck and headed west, eventually settling in Shelton, Washington. It was there that my dad enlisted.

I walked to the other side of the memorial to the Jersey marker. As I walked, I thought about the travels my dad made. From Texas to Washington state to Europe to New Jersey. I also thought about war - the cause for much of that movement. I never fought in a war. My son Michael never fought in a war. We both hope that neither of his children, Audrey or Owen, have to fight in a war. But my dad wasn't that fortunate. He did fight in a war. Unlike so many others, he survived. Surrounded by reminders of death, I thought about life. To be more specific, I thought about the what ifs that come with life. What if my dad hadn't survived the war? What if he hadn't been assigned to guard German prisoners and come to New Jersey? What if Joe Falls hadn't brought him to Bridgeton that night? What if Mary Louise Ivins had decided not to attend that dance?

But, of course, none of that mattered.  For all those things did happen. Lost in reverie, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I saw an older man in a veterans' cap. "Could you give something to help homeless veterans?" he asked. I looked in a my wallet. I had $9. I handed him a $5 bill. As sacrifices go, it wasn't much, certainly nothing compared to all of those made from 1941 to 1945. My dad would have given all $9. He was that way. His generation was that way. That is why they deserve the label the Greatest Generation.  Somehow, I believe they were made of sterner stuff.

It's hard to follow heroes. But heroes show us how to live in tough times. Eventually they die, but their deeds live on. When he was little, I told Michael about the grandfather he never met.  Both he and I will tell Audrey and Owen about their great-grandfather. I know they will both be interested, but Owen's interest might be a little stronger since this is where he gets his first name.

And someday I will take Audrey and Owen to the World War II Memorial and tell them about all the heroes of that time. For, no matter what your age, you can never have too many heroes. And it's the least I can do for a generation that gave so much.

Friday, February 5, 2016

When It Comes to Music Concerts Today, It's a Family Affair

When rock poet laureate Bob Dylan 1st came up with his classic protest song "The Times, They Are a-Changin," in the early 1960s, he was writing about an America that was deeply divided and defined by issues of war, racism, and an immense generation gap.

And while today the issues of war and racism still plague us, something has definitely changed with the generation gap. That gap, once so wide as to appear unbreachable, has definitely narrowed, in some cases so much so as to become almost invisible.

Take the music industry, which Dylan has been a part of now for 50 years. His music is no longer the sole province of the hip, socially-aware set. It's everywhere. You can walk down any busy street in America and hear people from 9 to 90 humming a Dylan tune. In fact, in what Dylan himself would have once thought was a complete sellout, his songs have been used in recent days to sell everything from ladies' underwear to Greek yogurt. Currently, Dylan himself is in heavy videoplay debating language, creativity, and change with IBM computer Watson. 

This music for all ages was definitely not in vogue when Dylan songs 1st hit the AM radio airways and record stores (remember those record stores, stocked and stacked with turntable-playable 45s and LPs). Music was a measure of the generation gap.

I think my family was typical for those times. My father listened to the country and western sounds of artists like Hank Williams, Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys, and Patsy Cline. My mother chose her listening pleasure from her collection of classical standards, religious hymns, and popular show tunes. Meanwhile, I was closeted in my bedroom, digging Dylan, the Beatles, and the Stones.

However, when baby boomers began having their own children, things changed. Most of those kids still liked their own music, but having been raised on their parents' songs, they often liked those, too. And parents seemed much more accepting of newer songs, at least until hip-hop and rap came to the musical forefront.

Remember that red jacket?
Again, I think our family was typical. Our one son, Michael Keith, like most of his early 70s-born contemporaries, for a time idolized Michael Jackson. But I, too, liked Thriller. However, Michael also liked many of my Rolling Stones' songs. Of course, maybe, in that particular case, he had no choice. He was, after all, named after Stones' frontman Mick Jagger and the band's guitar-slinging pirate/outlaw lead player Keith Richards.

As both Michael and I grew older, our musical bonds deepened, often involving trips to see live concerts with artists we both liked. Sometimes those concerts melded musical generations, such as when we braved a driving rain storm to see David Bowie, Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson in a triple bill at an outdoor amphitheater. There was the Dead and the Who and Springsteen and Widespread Panic and Phish. We even went to see the aforementioned Mr. Dylan together at Philadelphia's revived Electric Factory.

As Michael and his wife, Shannon, began raising their own family, the intergenerational musical bonding continued. Michael introduced my grandson Owen early to Fishy Band (Phish) and the Dead. But, at 6 years of age, Owen was more interested in Minecraft than music.

But my 17-month-older-than-her-brother granddaughter Audrey is a different story. From birth, she has loved music. In fact, if you were to ask her this weekend when she has the lead role in her acting troupe's production of Disney's The Jungle Book what she wants to be when she grows up, she would give you her current variation of Broadway actress, rock star, author, stage, designer and singer-songwriter.

When it comes to her musical tastes, however, she is currently much more her mother than her father. And that means contemporary country superstars. One of the 1st songs I ever remember hearing her sing was Eric Church's "Drink in My Hand".

Seeing Taylor Swift live
Audrey, who just turned 8 two months ago, has already been to 2 major concerts. The 1st, a Taylor Swift show, she saw with her Boston Nana, Sue Sullivan, last summer. Just this week, Audrey and her mother attended a Carrie Underwood concert here in Atlanta.

That got me thinking about the initial live shows I ever saw. The 1st was a summer 1965 Herman Hermits appearance on Atlantic City's famed Steel Pier. I didn't really plan to go to that show, but I was on Steel Pier for the day so I thought I would check it out. I don't remember any of the numbers played (I have never been a fan of Peter Noone and company), but I do remember a whole lot of screaming and 17 young fans (16 boys and 1 girl) passing out from the excitement and being carried back stage by security. I also remember that I paid $2.75 for an entire day at the Pier then. Since big acts typically performed 3 shows a day at the seaside venue, I could have seen the British Invasion group 3 times for less than $1 show.

Interestingly, the 1st major rock concert I ever attended by choice was a strange triple bill (see the poster at the top of this post) again involving Herman's Hermits, who headlined and closed. The Blues Magoos (remember their one psychedelic hit "We Ain't Got Nothin' Yet) opened. But the band I really came to hear was arm-waving, drum-bashing, ear-damaging,  equipment-destroying the Who.

Actually, since we were all too young to drive, my Dad took me and 3 of my bandmates in our band (or combo as it was then called in 1966) The Livin' End to see the show. He went out to get something to eat, but, in a dramatic demonstration of just how much concerts have changed in 50 years, he was able to walk in to Philadelphia's Convention Hall without a ticket just in time to see The Who on stage. He stayed less that a minute and walked back out. After the show he had 2 questions - why was that music so damn loud (it wasn't) and who in Hell was that long-haired fag--- in those tight red pants (it was Who singer Roger Daltrey)? And while he would take me to many baseball games in Philly, he never got near a rock concert again.

I couldn't help but think about the contrasts between Audrey's 1st shows and mine. I was 13 and she was 7. My 1st was in a long-gone dance ballroom that jutted a mile out over the Atlantic Ocean and held at most a few hundred people. Hers was at a massive sold-out football stadium that accommodates 68,700 fans and has 87 luxury suites. At one show, she had one of her grandmothers, along with 2 of her aunts, and at the other her mother. I don't know what the tickets cost at either of her concerts, but I'll bet it was substantially more than $2.75. I'm sure there was a lot of screaming, but I doubt 17 people passed out. I know there were massive stage props and colorful lighting, but I'm certain no one destroyed their equipment and no one would have given a 2nd look if one of the musicians had long hair and red pants. And I'm positive that Herman's Hermits weren't on either bill, although Peter Noone is still out there touring county fairs and small oldies clubs.

So, in the end, what does all this intergenerational music sharing mean?

I'm not absolutely sure, but I believe it's positive. After all music is a most powerful form of communication, and all families, no matter where they exist in time, place, or space can always use all the good communication they can get.