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.