The greatest generation, and mine.

May 4, 2014 § 13 Comments

Troop train bringing GIs home.In my mother’s mind there was a roll call of high school friends who never grew up much beyond their yearbook photos.

Forever “our boys,” they were lost in the European theater, shot down over the Pacific, carried off the field of battle.

For many the reward for going “over there” was a flag planted in the grass.

But those who came back—boys who enlisted in a fervor of patriotism and survived—came back as men. Men eager to make up for lost time.

They went to college on the GI Bill. For many, my father among them, they were the first members of their families to do so. Practical and dilligent, they studied engineering, chemistry, medicine.

They married the girls whose letters brought home to the trenches.

The pent up yearning of the war years was followed by a rush to toss rice, tie cans to a back bumper, honeymoon, if only for a couple of days, on Miami Beach.

Life, that had for too long gone by the name, “the war effort” was alive again.

We, the offspring of that greatest generation. were the relieved response to a long and terrible war. We were the path back to normal for GIs and the girls they’d left behind.

Suburbia.

The world we grew up in was built just for us, as all over America sudden suburbs sprang up.

My subdivision, the grandly named “Colonial Park,” was thrown up on a former potato field.

Walls of cardboard, thin insullation.  The water supply, not quite yet perfected, sat in the toilet, pink or lavender like weak Koolaid.

But home ownership was part of the proof, America was back.

General Eisenhower, needing a big project after the war, became president and built the interstate highway system for us, the boom generation.

We are a huge generation. When we rebelled the adults listened. We rebelled for matters of substance and matters of style. We acted out our convictions and our hormones. We made a mighty noise.

In my high school, individual girls were sent home for defying an archaic dress code, but when we (the collective we) showed up, en masse, wearing pants we met little resistance.

There were too many of us to stop, and we were not gracious victors. I never considered that I was rubbing it in when I chose the purple bell bottom hip huggers I wore that day.

We were exuberant, unstoppable and arrogantly young. The world was ours and we were going to remake it.

And then it began to remake us.

Vietnam War soldier.Like our parents we were dealt a war, but not one that ennobled us, our war was shameful.

Whether we protested it or did our duty, we lost either way.

Some of us are immortalized in black granite on a wall.

Still, we shouted on. We did drugs, we let our hair grow, we held rude signs over our heads for the cameras.

We majored in career-free subjects like anthropology, British Literature, and in my case, sculpture.

But inevitably, we grew up, we found work, became more practical, started families of our own, acquired and acquired and acquired.

We did not do any of this with the explosive urgency of our parents’ generation, but we weathered our own, more ambiguous early and middle years and now, this bulge generation is beginning to sunset.

Oh, we are not yet dropping like flies, but are no longer immortal. We are now admitting that, like everyone else, we are ducks in that great carnival shooting gallery and the whistle of the passing bullets is getting more frequent.

But we may be at our best, right now. We are shedding the stuff we acquired as it gets in the way of what we have to do now in the time that is left, which is to give ourselves, perhaps more modestly, but also more meaningfully to the things we believe in.

We yell less and do more. We put a shoulder to problems we will never solve and shove anyway.

We won’t go out with a bang, but we won’t go out with a whimper either. We have rolled up our sleeves, not building anything as showy as the interstate highway system, but building nonetheless.

Grateful for the time that remains, we plan to make the most of it.

Note: This is my 200th blog post. Thanks to all of you who stop by Slow Dance. I appreciate your company. 

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§ 13 Responses to The greatest generation, and mine.

  • craig reeder says:

    i love that phrase you used, “we acted out of our convictions and our hormones”. You said it! And I am one of those kids who majored in a “career-free subject” namely Philosophy.

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    • Still, it wasn’t a bad choice. You think about the big questions of life more often than almost anyone I know, and if that kind of thinking could be put in a box with a label on it that label would probably read “philosophy.” We feed ourselves in many ways. Some practical. Some im.

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  • April D Penton says:

    We are “keeping on keeping on”. We want the world to be sustainable, cease wars and make love! Now is that so bad-

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  • Carolyn says:

    Very nice description of our parents (& us)! I wore navy blue bellbottoms w/ a widely spaced yellow pin stripe to the HS dress code day…. Digging up many old memories as I go thru boxes from the attic recently, including a HS purse stuffed with notes, but have not found those jeans yet LOL!..

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  • Carolyn says:

    & congrats on #200!

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  • KM Huber says:

    In these years, I realize how gracious we were not. Some memories really make me wince yet how else does one mature? I agree that we have yet to show what we can give and in that, we have just begun. Lovely, lovely post, Adrian.
    Karen

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  • When I was reminded of the anniversary (May 4) of the Kent State massacre, I cried for the first time over it. I was too numb during that whole period. Such an era to have lived through. Thank you for the reminder.

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  • Happiness on the 200th Slow Dance article here Adrian.
    Here’s to 200 more.
    Your pieces are poetry.
    And I can relate to so much here.
    Both via my Mom & her work at the Home Front during WWII. My Dad the drill sgt. at Fort Dix, N.J. in WWII.
    And yes, not being allowed to wear pants to school.
    Even. On. Chilly. Days.
    It wasn’t the cold, so much as the discrimination.
    ALMOST ASTRONAUTS is a fabulous book for middle school & high school about the pilots who in some instances were better in the air, proven so, then male counterparts. But they weren’t considered for the astronaut corps. Today that’s all different, but I think each barrier, whether huge or small, holds us all back.
    And you so often write about that here, so beautifully.

    Happy 200th!
    And applaus for the International Reading Association Social Justice Award!!!

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