I was born one year before Pearl Harbor. On my first birthday, the radio and TV announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor and, then, my father went to war. He joined the Navy and spent World War II on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. I really did not get to know him for another forty-something years. I was the third born and the only boy. Freddie Jean was first born, then Vondell second, and, finally, Paula Nell. Paula Nell, was born just before our father left. Yes, I was number three of four and the only boy. So we are the youngest of the "Silent Generation." Most of our country's young men would return after the war to seed the Boomer Generation.
Of course, I was very young during the war, but I do remember not having a father around, the sugar and tire shortage, and my mother's fear and struggle taking care of four kids. And, who was this man in a Navy suit that came to our house suddenly? What would life be like now?
We are all retired, now, and deserve some retrospect. What was life like recovering from the war and learning to live with the Bomb? Do we have something in common with this generation learning to live with endless War on Terror? Now, they also, are learning to "duck and cover." Will they be Silent, too?
Here's cultural context of our family. In Middle America, a small town in East Texas, we were "raised" like the wheat, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, and, of course, potatoes that our grandparents farmed. My father and mother worked in the field when they were young, but I knew, from summer "vacations," that I wanted a different kind of life.
During the fifties, we were in high school. How nostalgic some people are about the fifties! It seemed to me that our Silence was more about denial. We were in a small town but I did listen to the radio and watch black and white television, but the movies were our primary escape. The news media was there, but somehow up-staged by entertainment, and at a comfortable distance from everyday life. Our town's consciousness was all about the oil business, "souped-up" Chevys, going to church on Sunday, and bootlegged liquor. Smith County was "dry" but only for the working class. My parents and grandparents drank lots of beer and through-up a lot, but I didn't have my first drink until I graduated from high school.
I was not just Silent, I was a "good" boy, until, in my sophomore year, I learned that there were other churches besides the Baptist, like the Methodist church, where I could dance without guilt trips. I loved to dance the East Texas Push and the Dirty Bop! Our town permitted very few affordable pleasures, so we had to rebel a little to have any fun. My few pleasant memories never outweighed the others.
World War II was a trauma to our generation. The treat of nuclear annihilation and the political power mongers who took advantage of our fear, made it difficult to really plan a life. I am, at my core, a "dreamer" and I worked very hard to imagine a future. Ya know? A sweetheart, a nice home, four kids, and a job that would support us all in a style I wasn't accustomed to. Never the less, when I reached my fifties, I realized that I never had a "realistic" plan to live past thirty!
I got my first job in the media in my senior year, 1959. I ran "the" video camera at the local TV station where I adopted my dialect from Hugh Downs on the "Today Show." I would spend my entire career in electronic media. So, I got my first television "fix" in live, black and white. I quit listening to "Yukon King" and "The Lone Ranger" on the radio and began to see something from outside of Tyler, Texas by watching "American Bandstand" from New York City, for god's sake! But the Today Show, which did have more news content, provided a "window on the world" that I certainly needed to escape my small town consciousness. Thank heavens for Hugh Downs and his exceptional character and perspective on the world.
Silence is a survival mechanism. Our parent's generation "conservatively" hung on to their fantasy of a normal life, perhaps, to protect us from their desperation. But their illusion would soon be challenged by the Sixties Revolution lead by a few of the Silent Generation, like the Prophet Bob Dylan and John Lennon, who broke their Silence with passionate voices . The Boomers, a little more removed from the memories of war, seemed to have some faith to follow-up on the rebellion. The Music was everything: Our Religion. Our Worship!
Music wasn't the only thing that gave us hope. Some of us would cautiously imagine a world in peace, without hunger, without hypocrisy--you know the lyrics--because there were also a few great leaders beginning to speak in tones that we knew were full of truth. The Silent Generation did learn how to "listen" and could hear the ring of HOPE in the voices of John and Bobby Kennedy and, of course, Martin Luther King. They gave us dreams to hang on to and music to move on with. We Shall Overcome! And then, "They" killed them. The world went dark for forty years or so.
To be continued...