Born in the 1930s and early 40s, we exist as a very special age cohort. We are the Silent Generation.
We are the smallest number of children born since the early 1900s. We are the “last ones.”
We are the last generation, climbing out of the depression, that can remember the winds of war and the impact of a world at war which rattled the structure of our daily lives for years.
We are also the last to remember ration books for everything from gas to sugar to lard to shoes to stoves.
We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans for the war effort.
We collected scrap iron and old clothing to support the troops.
We hand mixed ’white stuff’ with ‘yellow stuff’ to make fake butter.
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 are the last to hear Roosevelt ‘s radio “fireside chat” assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors.
We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945; VJ Day.
We saw the ‘boys’ home from the war, build their Cape Cod style houses, some pouring their cellar, tar papering it over We remember trying to buy a new car after the war. Some new cars were coming through with wooden bumpers.
We are the last generation who spent childhood without television; instead we imagined what we heard on the radio. As we all like to brag, with no TV, we spent our childhood “playing outside ’til the street lights came on.”
We saw the ‘boys’ home from the war, build their Cape Cod style houses, some pouring their cellar, tar papering it over We did play outside and we did play on our own with neighbors.
There was no little league.
There was no city playground for kids.
To play in the water, we turned the fire hydrants on and ran through the spray–or swam in the nearby creeks and lakes. The lack of television in our early years meant, for most of us, that we had little real understanding of what the world was really like.
Our Saturday afternoons though, if at the movies (which cost a dime), gave us newsreels of the war sandwiched in between cowboys and cartoons.
Telephones were one to a house, often shared and hung on the wall.
Computers were called calculators, they only added and were hand cranked; typewriters were driven by pounding fingers, throwing the carriage, and changing the ribbon.
The ‘internet’ and ‘GOOGLE’ were words that didn’t exist.
Newspapers and magazines were written for adults and news was broadcast on our table radio in the evening by H.V Kaltenborne and Gabriel Heatter.
We are the last group who had to find so much out for ourselves.
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.
Veterans Administration 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 military veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics.
In the late 40’s 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 (which became known as ‘Baby Boomers’).
The radio network expanded from three stations to thousands of stations.
The telephone started to become a common method of communication and “faxes” sent hard copy electronically around the world.
Our parents were suddenly free from the confines of the depression and the war and they threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined.
We weren’t neglected, but we weren’t today’s all-consuming family focus. They were glad we played outdoors by ourselves ’til the street lights came on.
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 started to find out what the world was about.
We entered a world with overflowing goods and opportunities; a world where we were welcomed.
Based on our naive belief that there was more where this came from, we shaped life as we went.
We enjoyed some luxury; we were at peace and 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.
Then came the Korean War which was a dark presage in the early 50s and by mid-decade school children were ducking under desks–just as we did in the 1940s.
Russia built the “Iron Curtain” and China became Red China.
Eisenhower sent the first ‘advisors’ to Vietnam; and years later, Johnson invented a war there.
Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power in Russia.
We are the last generation to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland.
We are the Silent Generation — “The Last Ones”.
I feel privileged to have lived in the best of times!