Think about the generation immediately younger or older than you. What do you understand least about them — and what can you learn from them?
Let’s go for older, because I have so much respect for so many of them.
Tom Brokaw called it the Greatest Generation.They lived through the Depression in the 1930’s, and then were swept up in the cataclysm of World War II. They came home from the war, men and women alike, and got down to the business of rearing families, earning a living, and returning to whatever their pre-war normal had been. They enjoyed the economic freedom of the 1950’s, and they were on the edge of the incredible changes about to take place because of the digital age.
What I understand the least about them is their stiff-upper-lipped attitude about the horrors so many of them experienced in the war. Most of them never talked about the really bad stuff. There’d be stories, of course, but they were amazingly silent about the things that their nightmares were made of.
What I understand about them most is their work ethic. Back then, you stayed with the same company or job all your working years, if you could. Loyalty was valued. Honesty, being on time, giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay were standard. Men took care of their families. They were stand-up guys, trustworthy and strong. Women enjoyed the conveniences of a different age than their mothers had known. Automatic washers and dryers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners–all these things made housekeeping less work than it had been for the previous generation.
I remember how excited my mom was when Dad brought home a vacuum cleaner. They didn’t have money, so he’d picked up a used one somewhere that he was able to fix up. It seemed magical to have the dust picked up so quickly and easily.
I also remember when Dad brought home our first TV. Huge cabinet, teeeeeeeny tiny screen. Black and white, Rabbit ears. You had to learn to work the buttons to keep the picture from rolling or going otherwise wonky on you. It was, indeed, magical, bringing a whole new world right into the living room.
When Mom didn’t have to use a wringer washer any more, she was ecstatic.
I know I’m making it sound like a sort of utopia, and I understand that it wasn’t that perfect in every corner of America. But it was a time before innocence was lost, when you didn’t worry about your kids being outdoors without your supervision; When they played until it was too dark to see, and they had to come indoors and wash up to go to bed.
We looked forward to the next day’s play in the summer, always eager to scoot outside before it got too hot. We weren’t sedentary, surgically attached to all our electronic devices. We ran, roller skated, jumped rope, played hide and seek, got up ball games on the school playground without any parents there to coach or criticize. The world was our oyster. Growing up was fun.
What I learned from my own parents? Well, Mom grew up wearing flour sack underwear, and knowing how to make a chicken stretch 16 different ways. I learned from her that you make do, and you’re thankful for what you have. You take joy in life, and every day is a new day. From my dad? Love of God, love of country, love of family, faithfulness to the work God had given you to do.
I’m glad I’m part of the Boomer generation. I think we had great privileges, and still do. We watched the change from the rotary dial phone to the iPhone; from the science fiction room-sized computer to the tablet; from unreliable aerial TV to digital flatscreens, from sweating buckets in the s ummer to central airconditioning, from bulky typewriters to computer keyboards.
Makes me wonder what’s coming up for the next generation, and if they’ll even have a clue what it was like before electronics. We didn’t take all those changes for granted. I’m afraid they do, and if there should ever be a catastrophe that will throw us all back to learning to live by the sweat of our brows, they’re going to be in trouble. I hope some of us oldies are still around to show them how to survive.