‘The Silent Generation:’ my sister and me

As I sat so recently with my sister, remembering, I was overwhelmed with our childhoods. It was like re-reading a very personal history book. I wonder how many of you now reading this can share these memories, since so many of our cohort — born in the ‘30s and ‘40s — are already gone, or like my sister, on the cusp of leaving us forever.
We can remember, and some of us actually inherited, the frugality of our parents, who shared a depression mentality. We lived through WWII using ration books…saving tinfoil for the war effort…seeing cars up on blocks because gas was limited and new tires were unavailable. Milk was delivered to our homes in glass bottles with tin caps that we took to school to make bells for Christmas tree decorations — Judaism wasn’t much recognized then, so we sang no Hanukkah songs in our public schools. Our mothers shopped for bread and produce curbside, from trucks (many still horse-drawn) that came around weekly.
We were children before TV; we “watched” radio by making pictures in our heads, and we played outside in vacant lots or in the middle of our virtually traffic-free streets, until the streetlights went on and our mothers called us in for supper. We went to Saturday movie matinees: newsreels and cartoons sandwiched between two feature films, all for a dime; adults listened to news on the radio — only three major stations — and avidly read daily papers that we looked at only on Sundays, for the comics.
Our generation was the smallest in number of children born since the turn of the 20th century, and Depression poverty remained more than a memory for many. Our mothers bought margarine packaged with a little yellow pill to break up and mix in, creating fake butter. Polio became a crippler among us. We saw our fathers go off to war, and our mothers hang flags with blue stars in our windows, one for each serviceman. And sadly, sometimes a gold star, for one who would never come home.
There was no more than one telephone in a house, for the whole family. There was one bathroom — one toilet, one tub for everyone, no matter how many. Typewriters were manual, not electric. Clothes might be washed in machines, but they were hung outside on lines to air-dry.
The name Hitler meant nothing to us. Adults at home gathered around the radio in respectful silence to hear President Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” but those didn’t mean anything to us, either. When did we finally start to grow up? Maybe not until we joined our grown-up world in celebrating war’s end, stringing crepe paper through the spokes of our bikes to make rustling sounds as we rode around, shouting wildly and happily but not really understanding why. Without the television that came later, we had little knowledge of what the wide world outside of our very little one looked like.
And then, we really did grow up. New houses filled the once vacant lots on our streets, the places where we had caught fireflies in jars on warm summer nights. Suddenly, there were new roads for the new cars, and plenty of gas and tires for them. Rationing was over. Our world overflowed with opportunity for us to grow up in, and grow up to. But we were naïve to believe there would always be more where this came from; the idea that shaped our adult lives was absolute faith that our futures would be secure.
Of course, we learned better as adults. We were the last generation to have no fear for the safety and security of our own homeland, even as we saw wars across the world. “Our” war was over, we had come through it unscathed, and we ran eagerly into this surprisingly different future that those of us still here are dealing with today. However, we also remember Bob Hope: “Thanks for the Memories…”

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