Have you ever wondered what it is that makes the old folks, I mean the ‘really old’ folks, the way they are?
Though you may have created theories of your own, it seems to me the following outline is a ‘spot on’ depiction of their history…..and the special time they, my generation, have been blessed to experience.
I’m pretty sure that October/November/December folks will see themselves here. Hopefully our children and grandchildren will take a few minutes to digest the reality that made us old timers the way we are, and why we sometimes struggle to make sense of today’s world.
Today’s post is not at all new for those of us who lived through the times it describes….those brief years of ‘normal’ sandwiched between two existential storms. Hopefully you younger folks, (that is most of you,) will take a few minutes to read about what makes Grandpa and Grandma the way they are.
What follows is a no-nonsense picture of the times we grew up calling ‘normal,’ though in fact they were so much more than that. That was true when I first posted this piece in 2017. It is still true today.
Thanks to Joyce Carlson Oliver, a long-ago classmate of mine, for helping us remember.
THE SILENT GENERATION
Born in the depression years of the 1930s and early 1940s, we were the smallest number of children born since the early 1900s. We are The Silent Generation---remnants of a very special time.
We were the last generation to climb out of the depression. We can remember the winds of war, the impact of a world war that rattled the structure of our daily lives for years.
We are the last to remember ration books for everything from gas to sugar to shoes to stoves. We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans to save and reuse. We hand mixed ‘white stuff’ with ‘yellow stuff’ to make fake butter, aka ‘margarine.’
We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available. We can remember milk being delivered to our house early in the morning and placed in the ‘milk box’ on the porch. (A friend’s mother delivered milk in a horse drawn cart.) We sometimes fed the horse.
We are the last to have heard Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors.....the sign of a loved one lost in war.
We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945, VJ (Victory in Japan) Day.
We saw the ‘boys’ come home from the war, build their Cape Cod style houses….pouring the cellar, putting on a tar-paper roof, and living there until they could afford the time and money to finish building it.
We were the last generation to spend our childhood without television. Instead, we imagined what we heard on the radio.
As we all like to brag about, with no TV we spent our childhood ‘playing outside until the street lights came on.’ We did play outside, and we made play on our own. There was no little league. There was no city playground for kids.
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 at the movies included a brief newsreel of the war, sandwiched between westerns and cartoons.
Telephones were one to a house, hung on the wall, with lines we shared with our neighbors.
Computers were called calculators. They only added and subtracted and were hand cranked. Typewriters were driven by pounding fingers, 'throwing' the carriage, and changing the ribbon. The ‘internet’ and “Google’ were words that did not exist.
In time the GI Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow. VA loans fanned a housing boom. Pent up demand, coupled with new installment-payment 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 50s the country seemed to enjoy the embrace of a busy, but quiet order, as it gave birth to the new middle class. (Who became known as the ‘Baby Boomer.s’)
The radio networks expanded from three stations to thousands. The telephone become an even more common method of communication and ‘Fax Machines’ sent hard copies around the world.
Our parents, suddenly free from the confines of the depression and the war, were exploring opportunities they had never imagined before. While we were busy playing by ourselves until the street lights came on, they were busy discovering the post-war world.
Most of us youngsters had no life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide we simply stepped out into the world and started to learn what it was all about.
We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity ….. a world where we were welcomed.
Based on our naive belief that there was more where this came from, and secure in our future, we shaped our lives as we went.
Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in that experience. Depression-era poverty was deep rooted. Polio was still a crippler. The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 50s, and by mid-decade school children were ducking under their school desks.
Russia built the ‘Iron Curtain,’ and China became ‘Red China.’ Eisenhower sent the first ‘advisors’ to Viet Nam, and years later Johnson invented a war there. Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.
We were the last generation to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland.
We came of age in the 40s and early 50s. The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, the civil rights movement, technological upheavals, ‘global warming,’ and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt our lives.
Only our generation can remember both a horror of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty. We have lived through both.
We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better, not worse.
We are the ‘Silent Generation’ - ‘The Last Ones.’
More than 99.9% of us are either retired or deceased, and feel privileged to have ‘lived in the best of times.’