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1888 - Acton post office established; Richard E. Nickel, postmaster [story]
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Commentary by Sarah Brewer Thompson
| Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

sarahbrewerthompson_mugIt’s funny how so many of us have an interest in history and “the old days.” They are the focus of many of our movies, they serve as inspiration for many of our clothes and home décor, and the they are topic of many a conversation. Many people pine for the times that were simpler and therefore better.

I am totally guilty of this. Some of my favorite shows and movies are those that depict the glamor of the 1920s and 1930s or the rugged, beautiful landscapes of the seemingly extinct American West. The decades between the ‘20s and ‘60s are always remembered romantically, with girls nowadays wearing pin curls or flapper-inspired fashion, and men in fitted blazers with thick-rimmed glasses.

They were no doubt beautiful eras in our history, ones that played undeniable roles in our development as a country, although we all know these things came at great costs. They are times that for many seem long gone, but if you know where to look and are willing to listen, these histories are still alive and well in those all around us who lived through them.

It is interesting to me that for all of the attraction we have to our history, many people – especially those around my generation who are products of the ‘80s or ‘90s – are content to emulate it only from afar, looking at it through a distant telescope, too often blatantly ignoring or perhaps not realizing that these eras are not so terribly removed from the world we know today.

Everywhere you look, possibly even in the mirror, there are plenty of men and women who lived and loved during these eras and who can tell you nearly anything you want to know about a time and place – because they were there.

Interested in our world wars? Go talk to some veterans. Many of the brave men and women who served in World War II had parents or grandparents in the first world war and can still recall their stories or, if you are lucky, share pictures. Fascinated with the era of free love and Vietnam? It will probably take you 10 minutes or anywhere you go out here to find someone deeply personally affected by his or her younger days in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

We are often uncomfortable talking to our veterans about these things, as it does no doubt stir up many emotional feelings. However, I have found that most of the time, veterans of any war never tire of hearing thanks and sharing their stories. Most are simply honored that anyone cares to hear their little part in these global events that shaped the world as we know it.

My grandpa George Savatgy, a Navy veteran, and grandma Mary, a nurse, on a trip in 1954.

My grandpa George Savatgy, a Navy veteran, and grandma Mary, a nurse, on a trip in 1954.

I still can’t believe I am lucky enough to have family members and friends who sharply recall their youths as far back as the 1930s, such as my wonderful friend Jeff Asher, who can tell me with keen detail about the very streets I grew up on and what they were like in the mid-1930s. Or my sweet grandpa George Savatgy, who first-hand witnessed World War II from the deck of the USS Suwannee aircraft carrier, hit multiple times by kamikazes. He still cannot believe his luck, even nearly 70 years later, that the pack of gum he went to get below deck saved his life as a plane came crashing down where he had been standing just before.

I never grow tired of talking to Vic Crowe, a land surveyor and incredibly talented pilot who still takes daily walks even though his 90th birthday was several years ago and is as sharp as a tack. He knows nearly every inch of the land I grew up exploring and in his modest way has incredible war stories to share for those who care to listen.

I even get a kick out of talking to the guys who were kids here in the ‘60s and all of the shenanigans they got into which, funny enough, weren’t too different from those of me and my friends in our high school days.

Many people say they are interested in learning but are afraid to ask. I have found that the more I ask, the easier it gets, and I am always surprised in how happy people are to tell you their stories, just to have someone to listen.

Try being the one to make the first move, to initiate the conversation, even if you feel intimidated. The worst that can happen is being told, “I don’t want to talk about it” – which I will admit in all of my interviews has not happened yet. The great outcomes tremendously outweigh any fears or hesitations you might have.

Admittedly, growing up, I didn’t always have such an affinity for hanging out with “older folks” – a term I use loosely, meaning any of those from the generations ahead of mine. I should note that it’s funny to me when people get in a huff over the word “old” or “older”; I know 90-year-olds who have more youth and sparkle in their eyes than some of the 20-somethings I know, so don’t get all hot and bothered in thinking I mean it offensively. Age is relative. The age of your spirit usually has little to do with your years. I learned that from Shauna Verbiesen, a spry, 94-year-old Agua Dulcean with enough knowledge and spring in her step for the both of us.

My elderly grandmother, whom I loved dearly, was a big part of my life growing up in that she lived with us and provided care for us while both of my parents worked full time. She had been widowed before I was born and was in poor health, so she needed help with more and more everyday tasks the older she got. While I loved her dearly and loved talking to her, there were many times when I much rather would have been outside running around or doing anything else with my friends.

I lost her when I was barely 13, and ever since then I have carried an immense amount of regret for not spending more time just sitting with her, listening to her stories, or just enjoying TV together. What I wouldn’t give to just tell her I’m sorry for not spending all the time with her I could have. I just have to remember that I did, however, spend many great days sitting with her and felt a closeness that I don’t think she shared with most of her other grandchildren.

There is a special privilege in caring for someone who depends on you not just for their health, but also their happiness. In what I feel of regret, I feel 10 times more in that I got the time with her I did.

For some reason, this sense of not wanting to spend a lot of time with old folks is the case with many young kids. They feel a level of boredom, disconnectedness or even discomfort around people who are much older than they are, namely their grandparents or great-grandparents. The availability of electronics has not helped this at all, when a grandparent often can’t compete in a child’s mind with a game on Mom’s iPhone. This is something I, and perhaps you, think needs to change, but it helps to be positive and keep in mind that there are aspects of things like technology that can be wonderfully useful to connect families, as well. For the good that comes with our plentiful technologies, as we know all too well, there is a lot of damage.

Basically what I want to say is just give the history a chance. Give yourself a chance to learn things, perhaps about things like your family history, or something bigger. Show those you love that you care about their life experiences, and remember: Those stories don’t die unless they are never heard.

The greatest pain is losing someone and not being able to go back and ask them simple questions, things you can share with your kids, your grandkids and so on.

There are remarkable people everywhere you look. You just have to be able to hear them.

 

Sarah Brewer Thompson was born and raised in Agua Dulce, where she learned to love and appreciate nature and history. She is a master’s student at California State University, Northridge, and a docent at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Her areas of interest are local history, archaeology and animal studies.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Clyde Baxter says:

    What a great read and led me to want to say to everyone;I Challenge You to Get to know just five things you didn’t know about a older neighbors past and you will open a whole new ponderous future by the fascinating knowledge you’ll gain. :)

  2. Sandy Crump Sandy Crump says:

    precious picture!!

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