How Previous Hard Times Compare to Now


By Brittany Merkel and Shannon Russell

Throughout history, at one point or another, every generation has faced tragedy. Since some nursing homes are closed or not allowing visitors, we asked our grandparents about hard times they experienced while they were growing up compared to today.  

    When asked the question “What hard times did you face in your generation compared to today?” Brent Matthews, 64, said, “I had to enlist for the Vietnam War at the age of 18, right before I graduated high school.” His brother was already serving in the Vietnam War, which was very hard. He also said that by the time he had graduated from high school they stopped the draft. Matthews mentioned that he had witnessed the civil rights movements and some of the riots. Another hard time he remembered was the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster of 1986. Brent also said he remembers a small amount of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He said he was only in the second or third grade when it happened, but he remembers a lot of people being upset about it. Other than the Vietnam War, Matthews said this pandemic is the worst thing they have ever seen in their time. 

    When we asked Regina Matthews, 61, the same question, she answered by stating that growing up with a different skin color was very difficult. She said it was very hard for her because people looked at her differently than her parents and siblings had. People still do this today and she can remember one incident that happened at a store. To this day she refuses to go into the store because of what happened in 2008.  

    Phyllis Allen, 80, said she recalled a lot of differences between her generation and today’s. She started by going through her life in order, “I wasn’t old enough to really experience it but I know the Depression and World War II were big deals for my family.” It was hard for everyone. “When I was about six, at the end of the war, all the food was being rationed. I had a stamp book to buy food, we all did.” In fact, she still has her family’s food stamp books saved. 

    “Communication was a big thing because no one knew where we were. When we moved we had party lines with the neighborhood. In about ‘62, we would have to pick up the phone and see if anyone was using it before we could call out.” Communication has changed so much throughout the past decade alone with all types of new technology. “I remember Vietnam; it didn’t affect me as much personally as others but the country really came together. And it was the first war that we could turn on the TV and see footage of our men at war. No other war had that much communication in the media. There was none in Korea or World War II.” 

    When asking in more depth about the effect of Vietnam, Allen remembered wearing bracelets through the whole war. She explained that there was an organization who would make bracelets with names of those Missing in Action or Prisoners of War and give them out. Her whole family and friends would wear them and just hoped for those men to come home. “We were really just worried about them being out there. They’re all brothers, husbands and sons. I would pray for mine to make it home but we would never know.” 

    As a final question we asked her about the coronavirus and other pandemics she had faced in her life. She named polio first: “The biggest thing when I was a child was polio! Everyone was getting polio! And then all of the sudden there was a vaccine and that was that.” She stated that polio was definitely the worst for her generation, with the swine flu being second. In regards to today’s pandemic, she doesn’t feel that it’s anything like polio was. “I could be totally wrong but the media just keeps talking about this virus and it’s the first time that we’ve had something like this. The media is reporting everything, all the time! There’s so many mixed numbers and ideas but with polio we had no current reports. We didn’t have numbers thrown around, we just had an outbreak and deaths and knew it was severe but nothing like today.” She finished the interview with a few more stories from her lifetime. 

    With everything going on in today’s world, it is hard to know what each generation will face. It’s interesting to see how two people of the same generation can have such opposite experiences, and how hard times can be easier for others.