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Some words between those lines of age

“So it is now I am a man

So be it when I grow old…

The Child is Father of the Man.”—Wordsworth

The Canadian singer/songwriter that southerners of a certain mindset love to hate, Neil Young, is nonetheless a wordsmith, and in one of his better efforts, he rhetorically asks his listeners to ponder “words, words, between the lines of age.”

And so I did, and now I have a theory that goes like this:

Every generation is shaped, affected perhaps irrevocably, by the larger societal events happening around them at two critical periods—when they are born and when they graduate from high school. The fact that my 50th high school reunion is being planned for later this year, no doubt played a role in the theoretical development.

And while neither scientific, nor provable in any real sense, it nonetheless strikes me as not absent merit, either.

Consider:

My grandfather, the original Ray Mosby (1895-1971), was born in the year that millionaire banker J.P. Morgan bailed out the United States treasury, at that time experiencing a gold drain.

In the year he would graduate from high school, ratification of the 16th Amendment allowed the United States for the first time to levy and collect personal income taxes, the Federal Reserve System was established, the world’s first assembly line appeared and a little train stop, Grand Central Station, opened in New York City.

His son and my father, Harold Ray Mosby (1927-2013), was born in the year of Charles Lindbergh’s famous trans-Atlantic flight, the first “talkie” motion picture hit the big screen, the great Mississippi River Flood forever changed Middle America (read “Rising Tide”), and the mechanical cotton picker was invented.

In the year he was graduated from high school, he would go on to serve in the United States Navy during a little international skirmish, would read of a conference at Yalta, would see the only American president he had ever known, die, and witness the birth of a new scientific and political reality with the dropping of two atomic bombs, while probably taking insufficient notice of both unprecedented domestic growth and the sanctioned allotment of television channels for commercial use.

In the year that his son, Harold Ray Mosby, Jr. (1951-?) was born, the Mississippi River was to flood yet again and devastate much of Kansas City, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death for nuclear spying, Gen. Douglas McArthur was removed from command in another war by another president for insubordination and CBS managed the first color television broadcast from New York.

In the year that long ago young man was graduated from high school, the first men would land on the moon, Sen. Edward Kennedy would have a tragic encounter with a bridge at a place called Chappaquiddick, a certain incident in yet another war would come to be known as simply Mylai, more than 300,000 young Americans would travel to, hear perhaps the greatest collections of musicians ever, make love and generally raise hell at a festival in Woodstock, N.Y., and a quarter million more would march in protest of that latest war in Washington.

One family. But emblematic of thousands, perhaps millions more.

Three generations that spanned the entirety of the 20th Century in America, the end of which my grandfather could no more have imagined or understood than might either my father or I have its beginnings.

But each of us and each of our respective contemporaries were destined to be influenced mightily by our perceptions of our respective worlds, initially through the eyes of our parents, and then at the times in our lives when society told us to put away childish things and come try to swim on our own in the deep end.

And when all’s said and done, it seems to me, it just might be entirely possible that what we get is what we see.

My grandfather saw hard times and that he would have to be tough to get through them.

My father followed that example, and was determined to make things better for his children.

I saw the good times turn into chaos without any real clue as to the origins of either.

One family. Three generations: From determination to duty to disillusionment—20th Century America in microcosm.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.