My grandparents, Henry and Florence Tuerff, passed away many years ago. For almost 60 years, they lived in Gary, Indiana (yes, like the song). They were the “3 C’s: Catholic, Caring and Conservative.”
I have many great memories of them, especially family vacations where we would all discover the great outdoors, like here in 1972 in the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. (pictured below Kevin Tuerff, 6; Jeff Tuerff, 2; Greg Tuerff, 2; Grandma Florence Tuerff; Brian Tuerff, 8; Dad Jim Tuerff, Grandpa Henry Tuerff).
Almost everyone in Gary, including both of my grandfathers, and my father, worked for US Steel. It was a dirty, but necessary industry that provided thousands of jobs.
With all the discussion about global warming and conservation, I wondered what my grandparents would think about these issues if they were here today. So I talked to my father, Jim Tuerff, who lives in Nashville.
EnviroMedia (Kevin Tuerff):
Tell me what life was like for you and your parents during the 1940s-50s as it relates to conserving natural resources.
Dad (Jim Tuerff) My parents had lived through “The Great Depression” when everything was scarce, so nothing, absolutely nothing was wasted– be it food, paper, coal, electricity, you name it– conservation was a way of life because there was no other way. Those habits continued into the 40′s & 50′s because my parents couldn’t help but look over their shoulder and wonder if those days were coming back.
EnviroMedia (Kevin): Growing up, do you remember any things you did around the house to save gas, electricity or water?
Dad: I grew up during WWII. Once again items were scarce, but for a different reason. Everyone sacrificed for the war effort. Many things were rationed like tires and even women’s hose. Some areas went through electricity “black outs” during the night. Everyone smoked in those days, and I remember we saved the tin foil liner from each pack of cigarettes until you had a sizeable ball of tin foil that was then donated to the war effort. From the depression days, my father was fanatical, as were most fathers, in not wasting electricity. He was constantly turning off the lights, a habit I continue to this day. Your other grandfather taught your mom at an early age, “NEVER leave a room with the lights on.”
EnviroMedia (Kevin): Many relatives in our family worked in the steel mills in Gary, Indiana. Describe the levels of awareness about industrial pollution. Did it have any impacts on the local economy when the steel mill made changes from coal to natural gas burners?
Dad: After the war was over, my parents bought their first home. They had rented for 25 years. The home had oil heat that at times could fill the house, and sometimes the neighborhood, with soot. I was quite surprised when sometime later my father converted our furnace to natural gas, which was much cleaner. The pollution from the steel mills was a given, even though everyone knew it was unhealthy, but in those days the belching smoke meant jobs and good money. When I was growing up in Gary, US Steel employed 90,000 workers. Today it is less than 10,000. Converting to gas fired blast furnaces had no impact on employment. It did clean up the air somewhat. Poor quality steel caused the drop-off, although I understand quality has now improved greatly.
EnviroMedia (Kevin): If Grandma and Grandpa were alive today, what do you think they would think about global warming?
Dad: My parents would take it seriously, I believe, and would have no problem with conservation when you consider what they had lived through. Our family had a small “carbon footprint.” We never owned an automobile, even though we lived in the suburbs. We rode the bus a lot. And yes, I did walk to school, in the snow, bandages on my feet, etc. I also rode my bike everywhere as a youth. Parents never took kids to practices or sporting events, we all took the bus.
EnviroMedia (Kevin): I remember one big social change took place late in Grandma & Grandpa’s lives—it became clear to the public that smoking was hazardous to your health. Was it hard for them to believe that fact, and try to quit?
Dad: Living in Gary, IN and smoking as both my parents did combined to affect their health, my father had emphysema, my mother congestive heart failure. Once their health deteriorated, they quit smoking, but if was not easy, particularly for my mother (she would sneak one now and then).
Would they feel a sense of responsibility for future generations enough to make changes in their every day lives? Do you think they would they recycle? Turn off lights when not necessary? Anything else?
Dad: I feel confident my parents would have recycled. It was almost a part of their DNA from the depression and the war. Plus, we never had much money, so that created a culture of not wasting. Back in those days various groups (athletic teams, churches, scouts) would have “paper drives” where they would collect paper and turn it in for money for the group. We were active participants.
Do you believe your own generation is willing to make sacrifices (conserve energy or pay more for cleaner energy)? Why or why not?
Dad: We are coming out of an age of excess and immediate gratification. All assets have been overpriced. We are now going through a “re-pricing” and that involves our natural asset whose price continues to escalate. Once the populace understands what is happening, I believe most will be happy to sacrifice and do what it takes. I am amazed by how well recycling has taken hold in our community and conservation of other resources is beginning (water, land). There are many challenges, we have no choice but to face them united.
Thanks, Grandma, Grandpa and Mom & Dad!
Second in a series of Q&A conversations about adapting to climate change.