Those 3rd Generations


Why were you here? What exactly was it that drew you here? To this place. Of all the places in the world to live. To your lover? Of all the places in the world to live. Of all the people in the world to love.

Why were you here? Did you even know? Something drew you. To Omaha. To an employer. To Fargo. To Sioux Falls. To St. Paul. To this town. To that cemetery. Something drew you. In Lourdes, Iowa. In 1992.

Why were you here? It was the type of question that you heard on retreat. Something had to have drawn you here.

It was June and I would soon be back on retreat. Something drew you back on retreat. Was it last year’s priest? A maternal grandmother? A great grandfather? A namesake?

Why were you here? The discussion always led back to the sense of wonder. A curiosity. Of my own.

The 3rd Generation. At the start of the 20th Century lived a man with my name. He was my great grandfather. He died within a couple months of my birth. Matt was a stock broker. By the time the Great Depression came along, his eldest son was 34-years old. Matt was said to own properties around town. When it came to time to collect rent, he let a lot of things go during the Great Depression. He was alleged to be quite a kind man. I was driving on a business call in Cresco, Iowa. In 1992. I stopped on the way back at that cemetery in Lourdes, Iowa. His first wife, my grandfather’s mother, was buried there. She had died during childbirth. Of her second son, who lived.

Across the country my maternal grandmother was 30 years old when the Great Depression came along. Her name was Theresa. She was in the midst of her short married life that saw her with 12 kids by the start of World War II. Okay, long enough to have 11 pregnancies. By the end of the war her eldest son was in the seminary and her youngest was 3-years old. That was the point when her husband took ill. He was dead within a year. A woman with 12 kids did not have time to work. Somehow during the next few years, anonymous checks came in the mail. That was what sustained the family. That was life in the Irish American neighborhood at the end of the 1940s.

Looking for significance even in what seemed insignificant on the surface. People with a common past to begin with. What exactly was it that drew you here? To any friend.

How old were you when you had the chance to search for significance? Some people only began in their retirement. Others never really thought about it. In the post war world. In 2009. Looking for a point to view. There were a ton of questions all along. Subtle ones. People with a common past to begin with. In family. It all made saying Grace much more heart felt.

Those third generations were what the Torah meant, in new perspectives. About the God of Abraham. The God of Isaac. The God of Jacob.

Those “Givers of life.” From the past.

Throughout her life, Theresa was known for her pies. Of her descendants, one woman made pies like Theresa did. I did not know if this pie-making would be passed along to a 3rd generation. My generation. Of her 43 grandchildren.

Descendants from those “givers of life.” The 3rd generation.

Slicing the pie. In Minnesota, the Cowles family had owned the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune in the 1950s. Other branches of the family owned the Des Moines Register and The Ladies’ Home Journal. As one generation passed to another, the children all seemed to want the same size slice of pie. There was a desire for more, even when there were more family members trying to survive with the same pie. In the world of journalism, often the solution was to go public. To get a bigger slice of the action. The descendants, the inheritors wanted more money, not recognizing the still one pie to split. This was one factor in the crisis facing survival in the newspaper business.

One solution was to become leveraged. Becoming a stock company let the shareholders look for higher profits. There could be more out of control greed with shareholders. Market forces at work.

Something drew you here. What was it? The Cowles had a mansion on Park Avenue in Minneapolis. The neighborhood became run down over the years. The world kept evolving.

No one was buying the paper. The hard copy. The Cowles had sold out at the right time. For something like $1.2 billion. There had been descendants to please. The McCloskeys took over. And they sold out after a brief run. For $500 million. They stayed in the business, acquiring the Knight Ridder chain. Those descendants wanted their pie, if not the same size slices. In another very short time, Avista Capital Management’s investment had shrunk to a worth of $100 million. In 2008. Newspaper reporters were given pink slips.

Some good writers became part-time. Actually the best sportswriter in these parts. Pat Reusse. He went to radio full-time. It was an interesting reaction. If people would not pay for the paper, why keep writing for them? Why give away your product? When unions could no longer protect the worker’ seniority, when the product was given away, this was one answer to affect change. When shareholders no longer could answer the question as to what exactly it was that drew you here? To this investment. To this city.

Quit writing for a while. In the world of supply and demand, why not see how much the reader appreciated you?

Market forces. Sharing power. In alliances and coalitions. In those third generations. Getting a market share. Changing the way the pie was sliced. With a fear of market forces. Badly sharing power.

With fear, it was important to stay focused. So said a guest on Reusse’s radio show who had written a book. Norman Ollestad. He had survived a plane crash that took his father’s life, killing everyone onboard, except Norman. I lost the other specific details as I climbed out of bed, with his voice. In knowledge of how to respond appropriately, he stated fear was only one of the options. He had survived because fear — he had learned from his father — was not a choice in times of panic.

Getting a market share. Getting out of bed, I heard of the importance of getting a market share. In the newspaper business. Editor & Publisher editor-at-large Mark Fitzgerald was yesterday’s guest, talking about what had happened in the newspaper business. He had just delivered a speech to the Inter American Press Association in Asuncion, Paraguay, on the state of the U.S. newspaper industry. Changing the way the pie was sliced. With stock companies replacing newspaper families. With new fears of market forces. When profits were diminished, and no one recognized the windswept change coming from Craigslist.

The mission was still about finding the truth. With each generation. And finding the truth was not so easy even when it all seemed to be spelled out. The mission for the third generations was still about finding something to say and then how to say it. Most of the excitement in the romance was found in the early chapters. As arousal gave way to fear, there was a lot more suspense along the way. Fears about endings. When love, not yet vanished, was still the theme. Amidst the market forces.

My namesake’s only grandchild and his great grandchildren had all studied either journalism or English, to address exactly what it was that still drew the 3rd generation here to his place. Still.

Amidst all the fear, looking to find something to say. And then how to say it. About current events and the news. About the attraction for baking pies. It was a good definition of prayer. Amidst the market forces, slicing the pie.

Those third generations and new perspectives. With the same mission to discover the truth. In the news. Or about what Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Torah meant. When finding the truth was not so easy, with budgetary pressure. When people were not buying your product. When the levels of passion seemed to be diminished. Looking to find something to say.

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