Special thanks to Jack Davis for sending this along. It is a bit long, but it is worth the read. Nostalgia rules! If you can think of other Last Ones, please post them.
The Last Ones
CHILDREN OF THE 1930s and 1940s – “THE LAST ONES”
Born in the 1920s,1930s and early 1940s, we exist as a very special age cohort. We are the “LAST ONES.” We are the last to see huge steam engines trailing trains noisily through our towns and countryside. We are the last to see old black-and-white movies and newsreels of the devastation brought upon China by flood and famine. We are the last to listen to music on the windup “Victrola”. We are the last, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and where we were when Japan struck Pearl Harbor; and the war itself with fathers and uncles going off. We are the last to remember ration books for everything from sugar to shoes to stoves. We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans. We saved newspapers and conducted scrap metal drives for the war effort. We bought War Saving Stamps during intermission at the movies and then pasted them into books that we turned in for a War Bond when the stamp total reached $18.75. We practiced “Blackouts” and marveled at how we could actually still see when the entire city was darkened. We delivered newspapers and set up lemonade stands on the late summer afternoons. We climbed fences and “jumped” garage roofs. We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available.
We are the last to hear Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to see gold stars among the blue in the front windows of our grieving neighbors. We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945; VJ Day.
We are the last who spent childhood without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio. As we all like to brag, with no TV, we spent our childhood “playing outside until the street lights came on.” We did play outside and we did play on our own. There was no little league. There was just no organized anything except what we might conjure in our own heads and then act upon. We roller skated and “biked” in the summer and slid down hills of snow on cardboard boxes in the winter. we floated boats in the gutter after a summer rain. We played cowboys and Indians and “war” (we made hand grenades out of clay dug out of a river bank or a shady glen) and of course baseball … “Anybody got a bat, anybody got a ball? … on the street, on the road, on that empty lot, in a field, in the backyard …and the bases … bricks, sticks, stones, rags, shirts, cans, you name it. It was game on! And the things we could build with an orange crate! Break it down, save the nails, find a rock and away we’d go!
The lack of television in our early years meant, for most of us, that we had little real understanding of what the world was like. Our world stretched for about 10 square blocks or a few miles if you lived in the country. Our Saturday afternoons, if at the movies, gave us newsreels of the war and the holocaust sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons. Newspapers and magazines were written for adults except for “funny books” or comic books. We are the last who had to find out for ourselves.
As we grew up, the country was exploding with growth. The G.I. Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow. VA loans fanned a housing boom. Pent up demand coupled with new installment payment plans put factories to work. New highways would bring jobs and mobility. The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics. In the late 40s and early 50s the country seemed to lie in the embrace of brisk but quiet order as it gave birth to its new middle class. Our parents understandably became absorbed with their own new lives. They were free from the confines of the depression and the war. They threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined.
We weren’t neglected but we weren’t today’s all-consuming family focus. They were glad we played by ourselves “until the street lights came on.” They were busy discovering the post war world.
Most of us had no “life plan”, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide we simply stepped out into the world and went out to find out. We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where we were welcomed. Based on our naïve belief that there was more where this came from, we shaped life as we went.
We enjoyed a luxury; we felt secure in our future. Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in this experience. Depression poverty was deep rooted. Polio was still a crippler. The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 1950s and by mid-decade school children were ducking under desks. China became Red China. Eisenhower sent the first “advisors” to Vietnam. Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.
We are the last to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland. We came of age in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, climate change, technological upheaval and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt life with insistent unease.
Only we can remember both a time of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty. We experienced both.
We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better… not worse.
We did not have it easy. Our wages were low, we did without, we lived within our means, we worked hard to get a job, and harder still to keep it. Things that today are considered necessities, we considered unreachable luxuries. We made things last. We fixed, rather than replaced. We had values and did not take for granted that “somebody will take care of us.” We cared for ourselves and we also cared for others.
Not to be too morose there are fun memories too: mud pies after a rain shower, glow in the dark belts, whatever the next box top would bring. Let’s exchange Decoder Rings and Flash Gordon lapel pins! We could even make battleship cannons with those cardboard tubes linoleum came rolled on. We were creative above all. We made do.
We are the “LAST ONES.
As always, enjoyed your blog, but don’t make it your last one. Look forward to seeing everyone at the October lunchan. We did live during a great erra and it so good to look back on our early days. We have seen many great first events and great inventions that has made our lives so much easier and at the same time has made our lifes more complicated. Can remember when life was so simple and comfortable. But life is definitely better and has afforded us the opportunity to still be part of this world with many added years to our lifes. Life is good and I cherish every day.
You hit the nail on the head. Oh the memories you managed to stir up. As a Korean vet, I remember.
Here are a few more things to recall: being outside and thirsty, so we got a drink directly from the outside faucet or from the hose, if it was connected to the faucet. And I do recall those old news reels: News of America that started with clips that included a group of girls doing jumping jacks. Seems like every reel had photos of a devastating flood somewhere in the world. and don’t forget those dumb (so it seems now) sing-along-cartoons, where you followed the bouncing ball over the lyrics and people actually sang. I don’t know what jogged that memory, but it is hoary with age.
Can’t agree more with “we grew up in the best times.” Maybe my own perspective, but they were good times. Thank you Jack Davis!!! Often I step out on my deck on a hot summer day and the smells and warm air on my skin transfer me back to West Craig Place, chasing butterflies, looking for a cocoon or chrysalis, jumping rope, walking to the drug store alone for a 5 cent chocolate ice cream cone, climbing that very tall tree, or (later in the day) catching lightning bugs and (UGH) making jewelry with them. Freedom…riding a bicycle around the neighborhood (or even several miles away–it seemed totally safe then), roller skating on the sidewalk, looking to see who was out on the front porch. A simple but rich life. Unfettered by fears, dangers, warnings. Except for the night-time air raids–that was a bit scary.
Thanks to both Jacks. I really enjoyed remembering those days. PP
Remembering riding down to Houston Street on December 7, ’41, with my uncle and Dad in his ‘new’ Chevy to buy a street edition of the Light – one word, three letter huge headline: WAR. Even I could read that.
The Chevy had to last until 47, and we got pretty careful with gas after that …
Protein got to be in short supply, but I could ride my bike over to the lake with a $2 Sears fly rod and come back with a string of sunfish that fed us dinner. Nobody worried about getting hit by a car, falling into the lake or, for that matter, what those fish might have been swimming in.
Worked out pretty well.
Love the memories of GOOD TIMES!!! I have a ration book that belonged to my great-aunt. I played in ant beds with Horny Toads, skated on sidewalks, played Hop Scotch, did all kinds of tricks on our swing set and had many neighbor kids in our front yard playing Drop the Handkerchief, Red Rover, ect. and eating watermelon or homemade ice cream almost every night. In 1944 my folks, my brother and I lived in a two bedroom, one bath house. They rented out the front bedroom to an Air Force family with a baby. We shared the bathroom, kitchen and living room. Can one only imagine living like this today? It was fun times, though. My dad bought a box of bubble gum and we were allowed one piece a day. I could even give a piece to my best friend. We saved string, foil from other gum wrappers and tin cans. We had a garden and my mom canned food. Dad raised chickens for food, eggs and money. Yes, I killed them and can still clean one and cut it up for cooking. Things have changed and I feel sorry for the kiddos of today, because they only have their eyes on the cell phones and don’t really appreciate the surroundings of walking to school and conversing with others. Life was good and hopefully the future will be good too. Jeanine