I’m a Baby Boomer. My father came back from World War II and I was born very shortly after that. If you believe the statistics, many, many others followed us early postwar arrivals into the world. Our parents were “The Greatest Generation.” They lived through The Great Depression only to be hit with World War II. The ones who survived that went on to produce us.
Our parents were a hard act to follow, and they knew it. To them, we had it easy, and they never hesitated to let us know it whenever we complained about anything, which was all the time.
DAD: You think you got it bad? I worked after school and turned my pay over to my mother. If I wanted to go to the movies, I had to ask her for the money. And that was without popcorn. We got candy once a year if we were lucky, and it had to be penny candy. No Hershey bars or Baby Ruths for us! All six of us lived in a tiny house the size of your bedroom. Did we complain? No! We took what we got and liked it because we didn’t know any better!
MOM: That’s right! All my underwear was made from flour sacks. I had to wear my sister’s hand-me-downs, even though they were two sizes too big. Mom bought my graduation dress from the Salvation Army, and it was ugly, ugly, ugly! Did I complain? No! Did I care? YES!
By this time, Mom was crying and shaking like an old washing machine. Dad’s attempt to comfort her only elicited a look that would bore through steel, with Mom wondering how much torture she could inflict on Dad if she clobbered him with a rolling pin and ran over him with the vacuum cleaner after stabbing him with a bread knife.
So there we were, the offspring of parents who had gone through hell and come out heroes. We wanted to be heroes, too, but how? The economy was booming, like we were. And if World War III ever started, the whole planet would go ka-BOOM in about two hours, leaving us little opportunity to become war heroes, keep the home fires burning or do the Rosie the Riveter thing.
Undaunted, we did things our own way. We shook the world like a global earthquake, for good or for bad (take your pick). Whatever we were, we weren’t boring.
We threw away our hair rollers, bobby pins, girdles, razors and even brassieres. We dressed in wild prints that would have made our grandmothers run for the smelling salts. We females wore our hair straight and long. The guys grew their hair down to their shoulders and sometimes covered their faces with beards. We wore beads, Indian cotton skirts, white peasant blouses and miniskirts. Later, we wore hip hugger jeans, body suits, bell bottoms and Afros.
We protested everything we thought was bad, and if we figured nobody was listening we’d take over a campus or two for a while, just to make our point. To our parents, getting arrested was humiliating. To some of us, it was a badge of honor.
Although the Civil Rights Movement had been going on since before our time, we gave it an extra kick and helped send it into higher gear. The Back to the Land movement took hold, too, as well as the Ecology Movement. A lot of people are still working to save the planet, and every decent supermarket sells at least some organic food.
Some of us lived by the motto, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Fortunately, not all of us did, or we would all probably be dead by now. But yes, it was Baby Boomers and their older mentors (who should have known better) who made LSD and marijuana as popular as they were. A party was not a party unless someone was passing a joint around. Even those of us who did not partake often found it fun to sit there and watch everyone else become glassy-eyed and silly.
We weren’t the first people in western history to advocate rampant sexual freedom, but we were the most recent. We get blamed, as if nobody ever thought of and did any of that before. Right. If you believe that, I have a nice bridge in New York City I can sell you.
Our musical heroes were The Beattles, The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mammas and the Papas, The Beach Boys. Some of us still get nostalgic when we are riding in a car and “San Francisco” or “Sittin’ at the Dock of the Bay” comes on. We are always shocked when those songs are classified as “oldies.”
Most of us have settled down by now into solid middle age, and some of us are moving into the “aging” group. Our time of shaking up the world by being outrageous has past. But some of us refuse to think of ourselves as “getting old.” It just doesn’t go with being a Boomer. I don’t know about the rest of my generation, but if I live to be 100 it’s going to be the youngest 100 I can make it.