Generational Character

Pierre Fontenot Friday, February 11, 2022 Comments Off on Generational Character
Generational Character

I witnessed my father do a U-turn, to go back to a convenience store, because the clerk had given him too much change.  

Another young man of that generation, parents both dead, he hitchhiked down here, arrived with his entire net worth in his pocket, $4, including coins.  Didn’t know a soul.

He tells me, “Back then, when you wanted a job, you didn’t ask how much it paid.  You asked for a chance to prove what you were worth.”  

He walked up to a boss, offered to work a week for free.  If after a week he wasn’t a keeper, shame on him.

Boss watched, boss was impressed, boss hired him.  Boss wanted to pay him for that first week, but the young man refused, out of principle.  His word was his word, the deal was a deal.  Decades later, when I meet him, he was financially set.  Plus some.

Another man I know, grew up sharecropper poor.  Shoplifted paper and pencils for school.  Shoplifted a socket set from Sears.  Shoplifted a Hardy Boys book.  Stole a piece of Super Bubble gum.  Years pass, he found Jesus.  Apologized to God, but knew he had to make right.  Wrote the stores a letter, and enclosed payment.  Even for one piece of bubble gum.  He’s been straight ‘n narrow ever since.

That’s the kinds of Americans we used to grow.

See anything remotely of that quality in America anymore?

Lots Of Bad Tastes 

I find myself flinching, a lot, in this America.  

I was at the post office, the clerk was having a personal phone call, while she handled my transaction!  She’s loud, outrageously loud, talking about her supervisor, what the supervisor could do with her high expectations, how she’d be happy to call in sick if her supervisor “didn’t mind herself.”  Not only is she not ashamed, of everything she is thinking and saying, but apparently she’s too ignorant to know to be ashamed.  Why is this person being paid by the government to give bad service to the taxpayers of the government?

The year is 1919. This is Louis Birch, age 12. His father died. On a good day, he makes 10 cents, delivering newspapers. He keeps a few pennies, but gives most of his pay to his mother. He was a good American.

Up until recently, the minimum standard of American customer service was: make eye contact; a greeting, with a smile; offer to help; and at the end, a thank you.  Nowadays, I am consistently handing payment to clerks who never acknowledge me, never look at me, never say thank you, so I end up thanking them, for taking my money – because someone has to have some manners.  Then off I go, with a bad taste, wondering, ‘Who raised this person?’

Lot of bad tastes, in this new America.

I was pumping gas at a convenience store, the young woman across from me was cussing up a storm.  The really bad words.  Lots of them.  In public.  Loudly.  I look over and realize that she is cussing her own children!  Little bitty kids in the backseat.  Pre-school.  This mother was calling her own children “motherf_ers.”  I kid you not!  

 But I’m a white guy, so I can’t have an opinion anymore, and certainly no voice.  I just have to silently look on, in awe of something absolutely inferior to the America I grew up in.  

The best slack I can cut her is to imagine that her mother talked to her this way when she was a child, and damaged her, and she’s passing the damage down.

And that’s how down keeps going downward.  I follow that logic.  It would take something heroic, if even one of these kids survives their childhood, and swears to never do unto, as they were done unto. 

But what’s our excuse, all of us who had it pretty good?  How did America go from the character we saw back when, to the character we’re going to be replaced with?  

How does good, go bad?

The Cycle Of Wealth And Character

The answer might be in the cycle of wealth, which goes like this:

– one generation builds the fortune; 

– the next generation holds the fortune;

– the next generation begins to spend it away.

The Vanderbilt family is a famous example.  The ole man was one of the richest people in the entire world.  Billionaire level, back when billionaires were but a global handful.  Within a few generations of the ole man’s death, the descendants had squandered it all.  Within a 100 years, the family name was worth more than their bank accounts.

Part of what makes a person successful is the Want-To, which is directly fueled by the Have-Not.  Once you have something, you take it for granted, and it leaks away.

As it is with money, maybe it’s the same with character.  Both are wealth.  Except character is worth more…

Character wealth, like money wealth, gets frittered away, not all at once, but with little losses.  It requires effort to hold character, but only rationalizations to lose it.

I still see quality among American youth.  But it’s here ‘n there, not common anymore.  When I catch them doing something that to me is the ole normal, like “really” working, and being earnest and diligent about it, with good people skills, and proper attitudes, I am pleased that it is not extinct, but I’m also secretly forecasting their future.  

They’ll have very little competition.  They’ll be masters of their future.  Because character is a superpower.


This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to character.  Blessed are we, who saw some of the best of it.  

*This is the 3rd story in a series titled What America Was – What America Is – What America Will Be, which can be found on the Eighty-one Facebook page.

Uncle P’s three books, Bedtime Stories Vol I, Bread Upon the Waters, and Hurricane Laura, can be purchased at Expressions, 3100 Ryan St, LC.  Uncle P can be reached at

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