Many thanks to all of you, for your kind words, and for putting up with my frequent posts. Today is sort of special, and I only wish that I were able to be there to celebrate it with some of you.
Instead, Louise and I will enjoy the gift of a fine dinner out, and we even received a bottle of our favorite Mexican Agavero for sipping later.
Meanwhile, I have been reflecting on something that an old friend recently sent along, and I hope you will all take the time to read it. It gave me something to think about; and to remember:
Regards to all,
“We are the last....“
Born in the 1930s, we are a bit special. We are the last, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the war itself with fathers and uncles going off, with us collecting any spare metal for the effort, watching in towers for German aircraft, and studying the profile cards to recognize them. We are the last to remember ration books for everything from sugar to shoes to stoves. We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans. We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available. There was an ice man, a bread man, an oil man and teachers could paddle us if we misbehaved; we didn’t.
We are the last to hear Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors. We remember knowing refugees living on our road in temporary Quonset huts or even remodeled tank crates. We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945; VJ Day.
We saw the soldiers come home from the war and build their Cape Cod style houses, pouring the cellar, tar papering it over and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out. My father did that in 1939, before the war, with me watching and learning.
We are the last ones who spent our childhood without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio. We played outside, in the woods, rode horses and drove wagons and buggies and we did it all on our own. There was no little league, parents expected us home for dinner and we learned by discovering. Our parents were often struggling, some were poor, but we didn’t know it.
The lack of television in our early years meant, for most of us, that we had little real understanding of what the world was like. Our Saturday afternoons, if at the movies, gave us newsreels of the war and the holocaust sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons; all for fifteen cents for the matinee. Newspapers and magazines were written for adults. We are the last who had to find out for ourselves. We understood that, and we explored and tinkered with things to find out how they worked. We also asked a lot of questions. As we grew up, the country was exploding with growth. The G.I. Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow. VA loans fanned a housing boom. That demand and new mortgage plans put factories to work. New highways would bring jobs and mobility. The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics. In the late 40s and early 50’s the country seemed to lie in the embrace of brisk but quiet order as it gave birth to its new middle class. Eisenhower began the Interstate System. Our parents became absorbed with their own new lives. They were free from the confines of the depression and the war. They threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined. Some of it worked, some of it did not. There were no safety nets. Get sick: pay the doctor and hospital. They were affordable and flexible. We weren’t neglected but we weren’t today’s all-consuming family focus. They were glad we played by ourselves until suppertime; and we had better be on time. They were busy discovering the post war world. Most of us had no life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide we simply stepped into the world and went to find out. We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where we were welcomed, once we had proven that we were capable of learning. Based on our naïve belief that there was more where this came from, we shaped life as we went. We enjoyed a luxury; we felt secure in our future. Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in this experience. Depression poverty was deep rooted. Polio was still a crippler, taking a few friends at an early age, as did TB on occasion. The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 50s and by mid-decade school children were practicing “Duck and Cover“. China became Red China. Eisenhower sent the first ‘advisors’ to Vietnam. Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power. We are the last to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland. We came of age in the late 40s and the 50s, having our own children in the 60s. The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, climate change, technological upheaval and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt our daily life.
Only we can remember both a time of truly apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of promise and plenty. We experienced both, and learned from it in a way that the younger generations seem unable to grasp. We grew up at the best possible time; a time when the world was getting better not worse.
Yes, we are the last of a rather unique group. What we see now is quite disturbing. Of course, we never thought to live this long, since we were quite sure that one would surely collect that new Social Security at 65, if they made it to 65, but that we would surely not collect it for very long. But that too has changed, and I am happy to report that I just turned 80......and am aware of it!