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, who 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 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.
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 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, pouring the cellar, tar papering it over and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out.
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 until the street lights came on.”
We did play outside and we did play on our own. 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.
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.
Telephones were one to a house, often shared and hung on the wall. Computers were called calculators 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. We are the last group who had to find 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. 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 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 3 stations to thousands of stations. The telephone started to become a common method of communications and "Faxes" sent hard copy 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 by ourselves “until 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 of overflowing plenty and opportunity, 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 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.
The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 50s, and by mid-decade, school children were ducking under desks.
Russia built the Iron Curtin and China became Red China.
Eisenhower sent the first “advisors” to Vietnam, and years later, Kennedy and Johnson elevated that war.
Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.
We are 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, Martin Luther King, civil rights, technological upheaval, global warming, and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt life with insistent unease.
Only our generation can remember both a time 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.”