All bloggers receive many articles every day and many form the basis for an edition of As I Like It! Occasionally I’ll receive something that nails its subject and I will re-post it in its entirety. The following article is one of these.
Children of the 1930’s & 1940’s “The Last Ones”
A Short Memoir
Born in the 1930’s and early 1940’s, we exist as a very special age cohort. We are the “last ones.” 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. 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. My mother received 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 who spent childhood without television; instead imagining 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.
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. OurSaturday afternoons, if at the movies, gave us newsreels of the war and the holocaust sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons. Newspapers and magazines were written for adults. We are the last 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 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. Our parents understandably 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.
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 went to find out. We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where we were welcomed. 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. The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 1950s and by mid-decade school children were ducking under desks. 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 1940’s and early 1950’s. The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, climate change, technological upheaval and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt life with insistent unease.
Only we can remember both a time of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty. We experienced both.
We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better not worse.
We did not have it easy. Our wages were low, we did without, we lived within our means, we worked hard to get a job, and harder still to keep it. Things that today are considered necessities, we considered unreachable luxuries. We made things last. We fixed, rather than replaced. We had values and did not take for granted that “Somebody will take care of us”. We cared for ourselves and we also cared for others.
We are the ‘last ones.’
Categories: As I Like It!
The essay is a worthy effort, though lacking, indeed made useless, by not taking into account civil rights or women’s rights.
> WordPress.com > Tom Lawrence posted: ” MAY 25 SPECIAL POST All bloggers receive many > articles every day and many form the basis for an edition of As I Like > It! Occasionally I’ll receive something that nails its subject and I > will re-post it in its entirety. The following article” >
exactly how it was!
Deo Valent – Your May 25 “As I Like It – The Last Ones” hit straight to the heart. I know it is author unknown, but thanks for sending it. I actually remember all the rationing, most vivid was the margerine which was white with a bag of food coloring which you had to mix up to turn it yellow so it looked like butter. I also remember riding on the West Helena firetruck up and down Cherry Street with siren blasting on VJ Day. We truly are the last ones. Can’t wait for Jake and 2nd Lt James Aster. Jim
Another observation along these lines was made by James Lee Burke in his novel “Crusader’s Cross” which I quote here with with a little alteration.
“It was the end of an era, one that I suspect historians may look upon as the last decade of American innocence. It was a time we remember in terms of images and sounds rather than historical events – pink Cadillacs, drive-in movies, stylized street hoods, rock ‘n’ roll, Hank and Lefty on the juke box, the dirty bop, daylight baseball, chopped-down ’32’ Fords with Merc engines drag-racking in a roar of thunder past drive-in restaurants, all of it back dropped by palm trees, a curling surf, and a purple sky that had obviously been created as a cinematic tribute to our youth.”
“The season seemed eternal, not subject to the laws of mutability. At best, it was improbable that the spring of our graduation year (1958) would ever be stained by the tannic smell of winter. It we experienced visions of mortality, we needed only to look into one another’s faces to reassure ourselves that none of us would ever die, that rumors of distant wars had nothing to do with our own lives.”
“If you are fortunate enough to have lived in an era that was truly exceptional, then those moments are forever inviolate, and like images on a Grecian urn, never subject to time and decay.”
I think that Burke’s novels often reflect his sense of loss of another era.