Thursday, June 19, 2008

The End of a Generation

On Wednesday, Edgar Ursin Peyronnin died at the age of 91 near Los Angeles, California. His death marks the end of a generation.

Joseph Felix Peyronnin and his wife Dabie, my grandfather and grandmother, lived in New Orleans and had seven children; three boys and four girls. Mary, Clare, Elma, Joseph, Leo, Edgar and Nona were all very special! Grandfather Peyronnin, who was an attorney, died suddenly in the early 1920s. The family had to give up their nice house for a succession of smaller homes, including one of those very narrow "shotgun" houses.

Grandmother raised the children by herself and most of them had to do some work to help pay the bills. I remember my father telling me that he began working when he was 11 years old. As the country slipped into a recession life became more difficult. The eldest daughter, Mary, took on a larger role managing her siblings and working. Both my dad and Uncle Leo worked on the construction of the Huey P. Long Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River close to New Orleans, and was opened in 1935.

Over time the children went their separate ways. Two sisters remained in New Orleans; Clare married Roland Brierre and Nona, a career teacher, never married. Mary moved with her husband David Barrow to the Chicago area; and after World War II my dad settled there as well with his new wife Dorothy. Elma and her husband moved to Louisville. Leo and his wife Charlotte settled in Evansville where he began the Peyronnin Construction company. And Edgar ended up in the Los Angeles area, where he lived with his family for more than 50 years. His second wife and he raised two beautiful girls in their beloved Ojai.

Over the years I visited my aunts and uncles and noticed striking physical similarities and personal traits. These traits included: intelligence, great inner strength, integrity, a tremendous work ethic, extreme stubbornness and the need for control. They were doers, achievers and builders. If they set their sites on something they made it happen.

Uncle Edgar's death has caused me to reflect on his generation. These survivors of personal tragedy, the Great Depression and World War II. Each of them had to overcome many obstacles in their life. They scraped, sacrificed and shouldered a lot of responsibility as they were robbed of their childhood, forced by tragedy to grow up young. Yet they were energetic, for the most part optimistic and very positive about each day.

Edgar's death closes a chapter for me. But while we will never see a generation like this one again, we can carry their spirit with us every day.


dana said...

hi -

we are currently widening the Huey P Bridge in New Orleans and your blog came up on a Google alert with the mention of your dad's work on the original bridge.

we are capturing stories, photos, memories that people have of the bridge - and are very interested in anyone who was involved with the original construction. Do you have any accounts from your Dad or Uncle you could share? tells about the current construction, and is where we are capturing stories -

anything you could add would be fantastic!

Tom Levitan said...

Happened on this post searching on a quiet day. Your aunt Nona was my 6th grade teacher at Bienville School in New Orleans. Looking back she was a great teacher -- got us thinking hard.