By John Gray
This month’s issue focuses on that large, healthy group of grown-ups known as the “Baby Boomers”. Just like the kids who hated being lumped into something called Generation X, I don’t like people putting me into a category just because I was born in 1962. In case you’re wondering, that puts me on the outer fringe of these so called boomers. But, whether you toss me in that basket or not, I can’t deny the gray in my hair, the waistline that has betrayed me, or the fact that the show “Happy Days” isn’tsomething I discovered on Nick at Night, but a favorite I watched every Tuesday night with my family right before Laverne and Shirley came “Schlameil, Schlamazeil, hasenpfeffer incorporated”. I can still see the little bottle of beer with Laverne’s glove on top going along the conveyor belt.When I see a pretty woman throw her hat in the air I think of Mary Tyler Moore. If I hear someone say, “Oh, my nose,” I, of course, laugh and remember Marcia Brady getting her just desserts for dumping a nice guy to go out with the “BMOC” (big man on campus). And if someone my age says, “I missed it by that much,” my thoughts turn to a secret agent not quite as cool as James Bond, but a fellow named Maxwell Smart.
I’ve wondered why the people trapped on Gilligan’s Island packed so many clothes if it was only supposed to be a three hour cruise. I’ve lost patience with the people of Gotham City because all Bruce Wayne did was put on a tiny mask and still they couldn’t figure out he was Batman. I remember crying the first time I saw a western where a little boy called out to a cowboy who was riding off into the sunset, “Shane, Shane”. And before yelling at his daughter over the cell phone and starring in dozens of major motion pictures, I remember Alec Baldwin playing a creepy TVpreacher on “Knots Landing”. A show only to be outdone by Bobby Ewing’s famous shower scene on “Dallas” or the cat fight that landed Joan Collins in the swimming pool on “Dynasty.”
Anyone under 40 is probably wondering what I’m talking about with these memories, but they are special to us Baby Boomers. And for me there are so many others. While Little League certainly existed “sand lot baseball” was more the national pastime when I was a boy. We didn’t have bottle water – you either drank from a garden hose or, God forbid, just stuck your face in a nearby stream to quench your thirst. We didn’t have anger management courses either so if there was a bully in the neighborhood you had to work that one out by yourself.
I love the convenience of my local Stewart’s shop, but I do miss all the mom and pop grocery stores that dotted the corners of those great old neighborhoods 30 years ago. They didn’t call it the Italian section of Troy or Schenectady because there was a store or two selling good sauce (or gravy as they say), but because the people there actually spoke Italian, some first generation to our fine country.
Towns and cities had more personality back then and everything wasn’t so homogenized. The big box stores and “strip malling” of America hadn’t happened yet. Penny candy really was a penny and you could sit at the counter of a local diner and a “soda jerk” would actually make you a rootbeer float for just a quarter.
I don’t know if more of us went to church back then, but I don’t recall a single house of worship being forced to close. I do think we were a friendlier, more trusting people. Mom’s and Dad’s just opened the back door and said to the kids, “Go play, just have your butt home before the street lights come on.” And play we did. Not with video games and Ipods, but with an empty soup can in the middle of the street, a simple game called kick the can.
Most baby boomers came from families that had what I like to call “just enough”. Just enough food on the table. Just enough gas in the car. Just enough space in a small home or flat to fit the growing family. I drive through neighborhoods now and look at these monstrosities that people live in. What, are there 25 rooms in some of these? First I wonder how they can afford it and second I ask myself why? Why so big. I say lucky is the child who is forced to share a bedroom with his brother or sister. They may complain all day long, but when the lights go out at night and you are laying there with the sound of crickets in the air and big thoughts bouncing around your head it’s nice to have someone you love an arm’s length away. Some of the nicest conversations happen between brothers and sisters in the pitch dark, in hushed tones. And if someone is upset and trying to hide the fact that they are crying, it isn’t long before a whisper comes from the other bed. “Are you okay? What’s wrong? Please tell me!” No one ever tells their sibling they love them at that age, but that’s what those conversations secretly say.
I don’t know why, but kids growing up in the 50’s and 60’s all had nicknames. No one was ever Joseph; they were Joey Sox because of the time he stole a pair of sox off of Mrs. Hopewell’s clothes line in broad daylight. Based on this theory you probably didn’t want to sit next to a kid named “Farts” at the movie theater. Speaking of movies, kids today may have their 18 screen Cineplex and $10 movies, but we had big old theaters like Proctor’s in Troy. I see Proctor’s in Schenectady and the Palace in Albany have brought back “movie night” on the big screen and that’s a great thing. Families were also bigger back then so you had to be sure who you were about to beat up or throw a snowball at. “That’s Tommy Defazio. As in the little brother of Rocco DeFazio the toughest kid this side of Chicago?” Yep. You had to know your place.
Every house had a TV set with a pair of pliers sitting on top. Can you guess why? Baby Boomers know. It was to change the channel on the television because the knob broke off. Just three channels to choose from back when we were kids. Can you imagine your children today with no cable or DVR, no computer or Mp3 player? They might have to actually read a book.
If you see someone over 40 making a painful face in the check-out line at the supermarket you have to understand what they remember paying for things. In 1960 a brand new house ran you $12,000. Some people spend that on landscaping today. A gallon of gas was $.25 cents and you didn’t have to get out of the car to pump it. Someone waited on you, checking the oil and cleaning the windshield while you sat. To really put it in perspective just consider that $100 dollars in 1960 would be equivalent to about $700 today. In 1960 that hundred bucks would go along way toward buying you a new TV to watch a funny cartoon show that just came on – The Flintstones. That’s the same year the President said he needed to send a few troops to help squash Communism in some country we never heard of, Vietnam. Yabba Dabba Do.
Getting old isn’t fun or easy and I truly do appreciate the modern conveniences my kids take for granted. But, if I got to choose a time and place to grow up I don’t think I would have traded all the points cards I collected from my Mallow Cups to be anything but a Baby Boomer.
Every year on Christmas Eve the clever folks at TNT play the movie “A Christmas Story” non-stop for 24 hours and every year many of us can’t resist watching. Know why? Because it is dead on accurate to the way things used to be when life was simple and all dreams were possible. It tells our story. So yes, my friend, you are little Ralphy hoping to find the BB gun under the tree, encouraging your classmate to stick his tongue on the flagpole and watching your favorite TV show with a secret decoder ring in hand. Corny? Absolutely. But also priceless. And a nice memory to have the next time you climb in your SUV, pump it full of $3 dollar a gallon gas and drive off to the mega mall where you can’t find a parking spot. Hmm, I wonder if they still sell Stretch Armstrong? Probably not.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writing at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org