Grandparents & Grandchildren

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


From Child to Parent to Grandparent
(In America We Have It Good)

Having immigrated under horrendous circumstances from Nazi Germany to this wonderful country that I call home, I look back and realize my good fortune. This feeling of contentment and gratitude is something that my grandchildren can never feel. With all of their privileges, their piano and dance lessons, their beautiful home, their myriads of opportunities, they feel deprived if they have to share a ride or can’t see a coveted show or own that third coat that they “need so much.” They have so much that they do not appreciate all that they possess and all the goodness that has come to them through those who have paved their way in the not too distant past.

I think back when I had two dresses, one always hung outside to dry while the other was on my person; when my beloved Dad brought home a few very small pencils that a colleague had discarded because the erasers were worn down; when we were delighted to have a piece of my Mom’s delicious cheesecake that she painstakingly baked in a partially functioning second hand oven; when I could not appear to receive my 8th grade valedictory prize since I did not have the proper clothing to wear to give my speech from the stage of our small town school; how I worked as a waitress in a bar instead, pretending to be much older than my fourteen years; how I walked for miles to search for a job so that I could buy a few things for my family and myself.  In spite of all this I felt like a very lucky person to be free from the tyranny in Germany and the freedom that had become mine. Unlike my grandchildren, I could not ask my parents or grandparents to present me with material goods. My parents had none to give. My Dad worked fourteen hours a day in the cooler of a dairy and my mother plucked the chickens we had for dinner and stretched the few dollars that my father was able to earn. We had no grandparents. They succumbed long before we escaped the gas ovens. We were happy to be alive. In Weirton, West Virginia, where I spent my early years, I was delighted to find a candy store where I could get a small packet of ten caramels for three pennies. On very special occasions I was able to get an ice cream cone, which was a treat anticipated days in advance. That, together with learning English and striving to excel, gave me a busy and gratifying life. Trying to compete with the Jewish American children who spoke a perfect English, had fine clothes and many friends was not one of my ambitions and I counted my good fortune every day.

Life is very different for our grandchildren. They have never had to struggle and their path has been relatively easy and protected. We are of course delighted to see that our future, our grandchildren, have unheard of opportunities that we did not have. We are only deeply sorry that they are unable to fully appreciate and value all that has come their way and we ardently with all of our hearts hope that they will avail themselves of the many privileges that have come their way as a result of having been born in this great land of America.

Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (publ. July 2002)

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