Celebrating Decades of Living

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Recently my dad celebrated his ninety-first birthday.

While that seems like a long time in some ways, it is not so very long ago in other ways, it seems to me. Let me explain. That is nine decades—in 1926, when he was born in Guatemala City, the travel was by train generally around the country. The doctor said that he was concerned my dad might be small for his age and not well, but he was born and has thrived for nine decades. So much for the doctor’s advice! Dad had an older brother, Junior, Russ Collmer, who died seventeen years ago. His mother, Constance Collmer, died at 72 and his father, Rev. Russell Collmer, at 83, but he has outlived them all.

Just last year our whole family gathered at The Houstonian (in Houston, Texas, naturally) to celebrate. Since we are a small family, we all fit around one table at the Thanksgiving feast there that Thursday. While it was a little bit early, we were all there together from Virginia and Arizona and Texas. What a celebration!

My Dad

This is my favorite picture of my dad

This year, we couldn’t all gather for the celebration this year although most of us gathered in September when my father was honored with a scholarship in his honor to help further academic research there at Baylor University in Waco.

So, here are a few facts about November 28, 1926. It was a Sunday when my dad was born. His mother had traveled from the countryside to the capital city for the birth, arriving a few days early. His father kept a diary and the note for the day is: “Constance was delivered of a fine boy today.” That’s all. No name or size or time, just his arrival. That date places my father in the so-called Silent Generation.

Time magazine coined the phrase in 1951 with an article, entitled “The Younger Generation” which looked at this rather small generation that focused on careers rather than activism. I looked up some facts about this fast-disappearing generation. The Silent Generation is people born from 1923 to 1944, making them somewhere between 73 and 94 years old. This generation was born into a time of wealth and high education, generally. Of course, they were the generation that were children during the Great Depression that affected much of the world, and certainly the United States. Even my dad’s family was affected when the funds began to slow down during the Depression, first forcing my grandfather to work for the United Fruit Company as a draftsman and then forcing the little family to return to the Philadelphia area where my grandfather accepted a pastorate of the Fourth Baptist Church. This Silent Generation is known for its patriotism as they fought in both World War Two and in the Korean War, enduring the difficulties of the post-war economy. Most of the entertainers, athletes, academicians, and politicians of the last half of the twentieth century were part of this Silent Generation. They were smaller than the generation on either side of them. They also enjoyed the greatest economic boom in history. And, this remarkable generation is fading away, one by one.

I got to thinking about all the blessings I have enjoyed because of my dad. Certainly, my brother and I owe our existence to him and my mother who he married in 1948. While she died in 1979, he has since remarried, and Alys Edney Collmer has been such a blessing to our whole family through these decades. From my dad I learned to love new experiences, Spanish, traveling, the importance of family and faith, and a love of exploring the unknown. Dad has written hundreds of articles across several areas in his discipline of English literature—from his master’s degree in John Donne through other seventeenth century poets and writers to academic administration to concentrating on Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, including the intricate engravings, to the Crimean War to the late nineteenth-century “rages-to-riches” novels for young boys by Horatio Alger and dozens of other subjects, even Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine writer. Recently I asked him why he wrote across such a broad range of subjects and he said that he just found something of interest and followed the clues to discover something new. That is a tremendous legacy my father has bequeathed to my brother and me and our children.

What a special day today is for me and for our family. I just wanted to share the good news!
What kind of legacy are you leaving for your family? Take a moment this holiday season and share something you have learned.

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