Ninety years ago. The year of Our Lord 1926. Seems like forever. What has changed in ninety years? In 1926, television sets were introduced to the public. Women had only had the right to vote for six years. Winnie-the-Pooh was first published. Liquid rocket fuel was developed that year by Robert Goddard. Aerosol spray cans were invented by a Norwegian. 5,000,000 people were unemployed in Europe after WWII, helping foment the next great war. Hirohito was crowned emperor of Japan, which would matter a few years later. Pontiac began making cars, they are now out of business. Henry Ford developed the 40 hour work week. Route 66 was created to run from Chicago to Los Angeles. NBC television is launched. The U.S. population was 115 million (we’re about 330 million now). Al Capone started the turf wars in Chicago.
And on August 27, 1926, a fine young lady by the name of Gwendolyn Joie McElroy was born.
In two years after 1926, PEZ candy dispensers were invented, as was the quartz crystal watch, technicolor (I still don’t see what 4K TV does differently), the iron lung, bubble gum, electric shaver and the car radio. In the 1930s, scotch tape was invented, frozen food was patented by Clarence Birdseye, neoprene, jet engines, the electron microscope, Polaroid camera, zoom lens and light meters. The first parking meter was deployed. Canned beer made its appearance. Radar was patented. The photocopier and ball point pen debuted. Freeze dried coffee was invented, which was helpful on the first helicopter ride in 1939.
I once asked my mother’s mother, Faye McElroy, what the biggest improvement in the kitchen was in her lifetime. I’m thinking the microwave, maybe refrigerator, who knows, even the food processor. She said “Oh, that’s easy. Running water.” I was aghast at that answer, but she told me they had ice boxes, the delivery man came once a week and put new ice in it. But getting running water in the kitchen, priceless she said.
So I asked my mother a few years ago what was the biggest improvement in her lifetime in the kitchen. Same answer, running water. Yikes. She grew up without indoor plumbing in Texarkana Texas. She used to let the chickens eat grain from between her toes. Thought it was funny. Had no problem eating those same chickens later.
She fell in love with a Yankee named Bill Burke, married him and they moved south. They had five children, of which I am the middle child.
I am old enough to remember party telephone lines. She remembers when hardly anyone had a telephone. Now telephones are a Constitutional right. Kids in elementary school get cell phones.
Gwendolyn Joie McElroy Burke loved her children and conversely, the children loved their mother. Sometimes things go awry and it doesn’t work out that way, but for most of us, that is God’s plan and that is the way it works. I like to think back now, as I do things for my kids, and think, “Wow, my parents did so much for me that I never acknowledged when I was an ungrateful little chump.” They worked long hours and did housework and visited my school and went to my sports events and on and on.
Gwendolyn Joie McElroy Burke was all the things anyone would want in a mother. Oh, she could be a hot head if things didn’t get done (she’s a redhead after all), but 99% of the time she was sweet and loving and caring. She loved my Dad from Day One to the very end of his life, and even on to today. She loves her children and grandchildren. As crazy as it seems, she has no great-grandchildren yet and none in sight. But despite the myriad of health problems that crop up when you live to 90, she’s still going strong. Maybe she’s hanging in there for that great-grandchild.
Her wisdom now is limited to thoughts of yesterday. Things that happened years ago. It’s hard to be in the present, caught in the world’s problems, when you are 90. She has said she’s worried about the future of the country, but mostly because she fears we don’t get along. She’s right. At 90, she’s still right. Happy Birthday Mom!