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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

— From the “lost” generation. —

Every generation has a name in American culture; X, Y, Boomers, the Beat, the Traditionalists, the Greatest, the Lost. Generations are extended periods of time that are connected with pop cultures. Many characteristics of these generations are the music, fads, inventions, and wars pertinent to each of them. Me, I’m from the last year of the Baby Boomers and the first year of Generation X. I was Born in Eugene, Oregon where my mother was a surgical nurse, who quickly went back to work just five weeks after my birth. Left in the care of a 60 year-old woman with wonderful qualities of a loving grandmother, I spent nearly every weekday for years with Esther Goodykoontz. “Goody” as I came to call her, – was good. She was sweet, and funny and caring and full of well, goodness. My own grandmothers were not living anywhere close so this was the best possible option for me to have care and also a connection to a loving, established, local family. Goody was from that “lost” generation that grew up during and in the aftermath of World War I.

For years Goody came to our home on Danebo Avenue, and when I grew to school age, I would take the bus out to her farm house just a few miles from Fern Ridge Lake west of Eugene. My father worked swing shift for Southern Pacific Railroad and my mother wasn’t home until six or seven p.m., so the afternoon and early evening hours were spent with Goody. My mother often spoke of how lucky she felt to have found Goody to care for me as the handful of women she interviewed either wouldn’t take babies or had children of their own or dirty houses. A friend of a friend gave my mother Goody’s name and this began the relationship that would last for years and also one that would positively affect my life.

Of the many memories I have of Goody, there are many of her making home- made cinnamon rolls, crocheting afghans and playing vinyl records for me. We’d go for walks, play with the cat, fold laundry and we’d play dominos. When I was old enough she taught me how to play cards, Gin Rummy, Old Maid and eventually Poker. We spent anywhere from 8 hours a day (from the time I was a baby to age 5) with each other and I knew her better than some of her grandchildren.

When I went on to high school it was then that I felt I didn’t need a baby sitter and stopped going to her house. Goody was 75. For 15 precious years, Goody and I were inseparable. I guess it was during my adolescent angst that I outgrew her care, but I never outgrew her love. I regret that Goody and I lost touch the last years of her life, but she moved from Oregon to Whitefish Montana to be with her daughter Betty, and it was there she died in 1993 at age 89. We wrote each other cards and letters but I never saw her face to face after she moved.

While growing up, she made every birthday spectacular; a celebration, a card and a gift. Goody wasn’t extravagant by any means, but a down-home woman with many talents and craft hobbies. A tradition was started very early on of Goody making me a scrapbook every year. Each year had the cutest, funniest magazine advertisements from the popular magazines of the previous twelve months, Time, Newsweek, Family Circle, Women’s Day and Life. Faux-leather bound and tied with a thick twisted silk rope; these gifts were her simple way of helping me to document the world and to learn about myself and my interests. I still have those scrapbooks tucked away in a safe place to turn to on dark and difficult days. When I look through those pages now I realize just how much time and care she showed me and just how much she enriched my life.

Goody was born in O’Neill Nebraska in 1904; her maiden name was Esther Sarah Cain. She was married to a boy she met when she was in high school; he was six years older than her. Thomas James Goodykoontz fought in WW1 starting in 1914 and right before the war ended in 1918 he was wounded. Goody fell in love with a decorated war hero and in 1924 they married. She spent much of her marriage caring for him. His wounds caused him a tremendous amount of pain but she withstood years of his grumpiness and complaints and trips to the VA hospital. Thomas died in 1966 in the Portland VA Hospital from complications of wounds he sustained in WWI. I don’t recall ever meeting Thomas, but I was a baby at the time he may have been present and struggling with the end of his own life.

Thomas and Goody had two daughters, Wanda and Betty. Wanda was my mother’s age, and Betty slightly older. Wanda and Betty were amazing women too and their children were just a few years older than me. On Goody’s finger she proudly wore a grandma ring with all the birthstones of her children and grandchildren. I’d ask her every week for years to show me her ring and tell me which color and stone was for which person. When she got to the pink stone she always stopped for a moment and said, “that one is for Christy, my granddaughter- and for you. The pink is for October, the girls’ of my heart.”

When I asked Goody about her childhood and marriage she told me about “The Great War” that ran from 1914 to 1918. I never understood until many years later that the war she was referring to was not the war my father fought in during the 1940s, WWII. As a child I couldn’t fathom what war was, or that there were actually two wars that affected the living generations. Today as an adult I can easily understand how wars during our lifetime affect us a great deal; just look at the Gulf War, September 11, 2001, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Goody told me of the “Lost Generation” and how almost an entire generation of soldiers were lost. Her brothers, her cousins and her high school classmates all fought. Her husband survived the war, but mostly only the women were left- leaving an age gap in the population. The symbolic meaning behind the term “lost generation” refers to the surviving soldiers during the war, who were deprived of a normal life in place of the life of a soldier. They had their innocence taken from them by bloodshed and had no greater meaning in life than to survive from one day to the next.

Trying to imagine “my Goody” as a young Esther Sarah Cain from O’Neill, Nebraska meeting Thomas Goodykoontz a veteran from the Great War is difficult, but her stories help complete the pieces. The lens of my memory is blurry but as I write this I recall many of her stories and her love for her husband Thomas.

Goody spoke often about how she and her husband loved to dance. Music was the glue that held them together. They were married forty happy years. Goody played many of her favorite records for me, and she loved the old country-western singers like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, and Elvis Presley. Her all time favorite song was from 1924, “It Had To Be You,” which she often sang or hummed while she ironed clothes.

When I was six, a song played on the radio that Goody loved. I recall asking my parents if we could get the record for Goody for her birthday. It was Lynn Anderson’s song “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden.”

For weeks on end I’d ask Goody if we could play the song and only that song on the whole record. We sang and danced and hummed to the words:

I beg your pardon,

I never promised you a rose garden.

Along with the sunshine,

There’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.

When you take, you gotta give, so live and let live,

Or let go.

I beg your pardon,

I never promised you a rose garden.

Every generation does have a song, an event and a war. Goody had a hope chest full of memories that she shared with me: her songs, her authors, and her favorites. Several generations separated Goody and me, but that gap wasn’t important to us; we stretched to meet each other and along the way we bridged the gap. She often told me that taking care of me as a baby during the final years of her husband’s life and after his death brought her a great deal of joy. For me, Goody was much more to me than a babysitter; she was a grandmother, a surrogate mother, guardian angel, a dear friend and a concierge for the world’s warmth that the lucky few receive. Goody gave me a treasured archive of love, identity, authenticity, companionship and it reminds me that no generation is lost if we remember our connection to community, love and respect for one another. I was lucky and she was Goody.

Photo: My twin brothers, Michael & Mark, me at age 4 & Goody.