The Silent Generation

Extended “house arrest” has provided me with more time to go through old files and find some “goodies” worthy of being passed along. Here’s one I especially appreciate, since I just turned 86 in mid-month. I’ve edited and added to this and am urging all of you to read it, whatever your own age, because it’s like a short history book. But please remember: This is living history for those of us — of “a certain” age or older — that brings back many wonderful memories, and perhaps evokes a few tears, as we relish re-experiencing so much of our personal “Best of Times.”
We’re the children of what has sometimes been called “The Silent Generation.” Born in the ‘30s and ‘40s, a very special age cohort: the smallest number of children born since the early 1900s. Sometimes we’re called “the last ones” — the final generation born to those still climbing out of the Great Depression. And we can remember ourselves the impact of World War II that rattled every adult’s daily life for years.
We’re the last who knew “ration books” with stamps in them for gas, meat, sugar, shoes. We saved tinfoil and poured cooking fat into empty cans, handing everything over to folks who knew where to give them to aid the war effort. We bought white stuff and mixed it with yellow stuff to make margarine look like butter. We remember milk being delivered to our homes early in the morning, glass bottles left in a special wooden box on the porch; we hoarded the bottles’ tinfoil caps — especially the red and green ones — and took them to school to make decorations for the Christmas tree that was the one and only religious feature of every public school.
We were the last to sit on the floor by a radio big enough to be a piece of living room furniture and hear President Franklin Roosevelt’s assurances about winning the war, and to see Stars hanging in front windows — Blue for family members in service, Gold for those who had died in battle. And we can remember the “VJ Day” parades of Aug. 15, 1945 — almost exactly 75 years ago! — for our victory over Japan. Finally, we saw all the “boys” come home from war, to start building their own adult lives.
We are the last generation that spent childhood without television. Instead, we used our imaginations, sitting on the floor by that large living room radio, creating pictures in our own heads to go with the broadcast words. Not too many years ago, I heard a 9-year-old boy say he liked radio better than TV because “Radio has better pictures!” I’d call him a smart kid because when we were nine, we also could make words into our own head-pictures of whatever we wanted to see.
We played outside, after school and almost all day on weekends, until the street lights came on and Mother called us in for supper. Our games mostly involved balls of one kind or another — boys hit with bats, girls threw against steps and tried to catch before the bounce. Sometimes we would roller-skate. On weekends, we’d go to the movies for cartoons, Westerns and newsreels that showed us glimpses of what the world outside ours was like, although we had little understanding of it.
What passed for computers were hand-cranked calculators, and our typewriters, driven by finger-power, required “throwing the carriage” at the end of every line and changing old ribbons for new when the first one ran out of ink. Internet and Google were non-existent words for concepts yet unborn. Magazines and newspapers were all meant for adults, except the colorful Sunday “funnies” that we routinely pounced on. But for immediate news, our parents relied on radio reports every evening.
Today, we remain as the Last of the Last: the cohort that had to — and did — learn almost everything through the rather narrow lenses of our own limited experiences.

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