Monday, August 23, 2004

Families IV--The Boomers

Ah, to come of age in the sixties and seventies. Those of us who did it…were we lucky, or cursed? Was our time any different, any scarier, any angrier, any richer than our parents’? Or our children’s? I can’t speak to the latter, having never had kids of my own. But how did the Boomers’ teen-age compare to that of our parents? And why did it leave us SO screwed up?
In fact, I can’t really say I’m well-versed on my parents’ generation, either. Due to what I think was a heavy dose of reserve passed on to them by THEIR parents, my folks were never very forthcoming with tales about their childhood years. If times were hard…and I’m sure they WERE, what with the Depression, disease epidemics, the events leading up to the war…you didn’t dwell on those things. You sucked it up, stuck out your chin, and kept going forward. Always, there was the "American Dream" before them, the carrot dangled in front of them that kept them moving, putting one foot in front of the other, always pressing on toward that promise of something better, something they could actually GET if they worked hard enough. People believed that back then, especially my mother’s people—those first generation Americans whose parents had left the "Old Countries" in Europe, where the class structure would never allow them to advance beyond the peasant life, no matter HOW hard they worked. They came to America, they worked their butts off, and they made something of themselves. Because they could.
Though Mom’s extended family, in the "old neighborhood", eventually built up tiny real estate fortunes, Mom’s immediate family had it rough. Her dad was ill…in and out of hospitals for her entire young life. He died of tuberculosis when she was seventeen. Not only did Mom’s family NOT prosper in the way of her aunts, uncles and cousins, but Gramma had to provide for the family by cleaning houses for a living. I imagine my mother saw this as quite a stigma. Also, Mom’s two older brothers both had to quit school before ever reaching high school, in order to bring home money to help keep the roof over their heads. Not exactly the "American Dream" for the Feil family. Is it any wonder that Mom grew up with a monstrous "poor relation" complex that she couldn’t shed, even after marrying my dad and moving to the affluent suburbs on the North Shore of Chicago (not that WE were affluent, but the address was very chic…)?
Dad had it slightly easier, economically, growing up. The Baldwins made their home in small-town Oregon. Grandfather worked for the railroad for something like forty years—great job security in those days, even during the Depression. So they were never poor or hungry, nor did the specter of losing their home ever hang over their heads. The dark side of Dad’s childhood was the personalities. Again, if it was bad, we didn’t hear the details. But the mood and tone of the stories we did hear when we were kids, suggested that Grandmother was a force to be reckoned with, very controlling in a passive/aggressive sort of way. The fact that Mom and Dad ended up moving back to Chicago, after going west and trying to live among my father’s people after the war, was very revealing…
These were my parents’ individual stories…distinct, but, I have the feeling, not all that much different from the stories of any of their peers from that era. Hard times, hard work, and living through and beyond the pain of everyday life, were the continuous threads that connected all the folks of my parents’ generation. The thing that they derived from this, the credo that both blessed and doomed their children--the Baby Boomers--was that they were going to make damn sure their kids had it easier than they did. Their children would not have to work, sweat, sacrifice, and cry as much as they did when they were growing up. What they didn’t realize was that it was those very things—the sweating, the sacrifices and the tears—that formed them into what we call today the "Greatest Generation." Without having to endure those things, WE would become…something less.
Let’s face it, folks, we were spoiled. We were raised by people whose main goal in child rearing was to give their children the things THEY never had when they were growing up. They were, for the most part, emotionally distant, because that was how they had been brought up. But they were going to give us all the THINGS they never had when they were kids. Were we content with that? Did it make us happier kids?
Did it point us toward clear goals as we approached adulthood? Of course not. We wanted more. On some unconscious level, we understood that our parents were squandering their life’s blood to give us things they never dreamed of having when they were kids. But it wasn’t enough. We wanted more. We developed a hunger for the abstracts. We wanted "love." We wanted "peace." We wanted equality and understanding. We wanted the world to change for us. And we were a huge enough force to create all sorts of havoc in pursuit of that end.
To be continued…


  1. I was a child that was VERY poor until I was 9 and then my mom married a man who had money.  Lots and lots of money but the happiest times in my childhood were BEFORE they married because although he provided he stole her soul.  Never gave back a part of it.

    Shame on him.

    Lisa you are telling a great story!!  Sad and bittersweet but also great.

  2. I'm a little older than you.....not much but I married at 18 so my 1960s were parenting years for me. I came from a lower middle class family and had to work after school from the time I was 15. My parents, I know, felt bad that they couldn't afford to give me what they wanted to.....they were also older parents by the time I came along. I guess I didn't get spoiled but I can see so many of my peers who were. Nothing seems to make them happy. Very little makes me happy, so maybe I was the lucky one. : )

    PS......I should tell you more. I love your journal.

  3. PS......I meant it takes very little to make me happy! I'm tired. It's after 4AM. : )

  4. Reading this I am reminded of a discussion I had with my mother when we visited them this summer.  For whatever reason, she started to talk about how when she was little her mother would send her to the corner deli to pick up some necessary foods.  Sometimes, they didn't have money and her mother would ask HER, a child, to get the things credited until they had the money to pay.  I can't tell you how this has explained so much about her to me, how she never forgot that, how she never, ever wanted to be in that position again and so she worked hard to save money and to be frugal.  As her child (with 3 other siblings) we had more than she ever had, but we did not have the excess that the kids have today.  We had enough...which is enough.

  5. My family didn't talk much either. I found out so many things years later. Feelings didn't get talked about much. My sisters are much younger than I am. I don't know we  don't talk much either. Not from lack of trying.

  6. Hello-
    Oh man I miss the 70's...baaaad! Those were very simple times and great times. Family was family, period. Don't you miss Mr Potato Head?? I still have mine carefully wrapped up in my treasure chest. I know I'm way off subject, but reading your entry made me think of my Mr. Potato Head....LOL

    Thanks for the entry, it was cool.


  7. Oh great entry, and some excellent points.  But it's hard to accept some of the things as being true, because I know the vast differences between families.  I was born in 1970, so maybe I'm later than what you're talking about.

    It's always hard to write about a generation and continue to respect individual differences.  It would be impossible for me to write about *my generation.  I'm not even sure what it is. ;-)

  8. Hey Lisa, once again catching up... I couldn't agree more.  I believe that this absence of sweating and working toward a goal screwed your generation as well as ones to follow.... Kristi

  9. Your writings of your family remind me of a class I took where we used a writing style called Semiotics. I struggled with learning the style but I'd say you are doing an excellent job of using your family dynamics to explain society at large. Very interesting stuff! :-) ---Robbie