Sunday, June 7, 2009

How did The Greatest Generation Survive

I am planning on visiting my parents next week. They are presently living in an assisted living facility in California. I mentioned this to a friend who coincidentally has an idea to present a comedy routine to old age homes in Florida. His basic premise is that this generation, called the "Greatest Generation" born between World War I and 1930, got the biggest shaft of any generation in history.

First of all in their earliest years they were in the greatest depression in the history of the world. No opportunity, no hope, no expectation of a bright future. Survival was the only thing that mattered. There were Okies who left the dust bowl because they couldn't grow food, soup lines where thousands lined up for a bowl of soup, hobos who lived in camps and did nothing but ride the trains looking for work that did not exist. People would work all day for a lump of coal that they would bring home to keep their family warm. This was not a good time to be a teenager.

So what happened next to this generation. WWII. Where every fit man, including anybody and everybody was either enlisted or drafted into a war where their lives were in mortal danger and the strategy of the war was to win by attrition. Whoever remained standing was the winner. The "greatest generation" did win the war and came home from war with hope for the future.

What happened to that hope? After years of no hope in the depression, no choice in the army, they came home and devoted the rest of their lives to their families and children. They kept jobs they did not like and stayed in relationships they despised for their children who immediately upon reaching their sixteenth birthday felt that every value that their parents had was bad. They were raping the environment, they were too materialistic, they were close-minded, they were sexist, racist, homophobes, and in general had "no clue" to what was really important. The mantra of the "greatest generation's" children became" don't trust anyone over thirty."

In spite of these tought times what is interesting and even amazing about this generation is that they survived at all. They did everything wrong that we consider today life threatening. Not only did they smoke, but every public place they went, including elevators and baseball dugouts they were exposed to second hand smoke. Every double play and home run was rewarded by cigarettes being send to the local veterans hospital.

There was lead in the paint and in the gasoline. You could not avoid lead. Now, if there is a trace of lead in a toy there is an embargo against the product. Previously, we would be exposed to lead everywhere we went, Chinese food was loaded with MSG, People ate lard, fat, schmaltz,
gribbinis (the fattiest innards of the cow). There was no exercise, no gyms, no bottled water, and no safety equipment or warning signs. No one told people not to put plastic bags over their childrens heads or not to light matches near gas stations. There were no news alerts that told us to stay inside and drink water when it was 120 degrees outside.

Healthcare used to be that someone would come to your house with a bag and cure your whole family for three dollars. There were no urologists, endocrinologists, neurologists, or dermatologists. People went to doctors or dentists, no specialists. There was no ADD or ADHD.

How did this generation survive without cellphones, blackberries, ipods, google, and cable tv. You could not break or change an appointment. If you needed to meet someone at a designated place at a specific time you had to be there because you could not call or cancel. Plus you could not buy anything if you did not have the money.

There definitely is a comedy routine buried in the comparisons between the "greatest generation" and the generations that came after. But in that comedy, there is an interesting truth about how we look at life and the necessity to be understanding and tolerant of our parents, our children, and anyone who may see life differently than we do.

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