Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?



                                                     Were We Nicer Then


I came across this quote in my reading, “President Roosevelt commented to his assistants about how docile the public was.” And I guess we were a nice bunch in the thirties and forties.  Neighbors talked to each other, borrowed cups of sugar, helped each other fix their cars,  and unless they had a quarantine  sign on the doorcame over and took care of their neighbor when the person got sick.  They loaned tools, helped each other fix their push lawn mowers, in fact mowed the lawn when the neighbors were gone, had family gatherings and relatives went without their vacation to help each other financially.

Men lined up at recruiting stations to “answer the call,” for soldiers during WWII, which was also a job paying in the low two figures.

I only knew of one bullying incident while I was in high school.  This boy, who had let his hair grow long, claimed he was gay, was wrestled to the ground, and had his hair cut.  This, I am told, was encouraged by the coach.  But other than that, no bullying that I knew of. Hey, I take that back, I was called “jack-o-lantern,” when in the first two grades. Anyhow, the shorn kid was back in school the next day.  Bullying today has become so bad, that it’s been estimated there is six times as much teen-aged suicide today as it was fifty years ago.

And as the pornography of the past, consisted of tame cards from Mexico, didn’t have much stuff on the sexual attractiveness of children, there wasn’t a lot of child sexual abuse.  I never had one elderly friend that spoke of any sexual abuse as a child, although there was a lot of physical abuse.

And even better, 90% of the income of the super-rich went to taxes.   We didn’t have the “Haves” with gillion dollar incomes, and if we did (and we did) we didn’t know about it, as we didn’t have books, TV programs, or magazines with pictures of their lavish life styles, clueing us in.  The only people who knew about their eminence was the IRS and their paid employees.   We knew some people had a lot of money, but we admired them and wanted to be one of them.  Until WWII when I was a teen-ager we didn’t have any wars, until the Japanese attacked Hawaii and  started WWII.  

By comparison, today we have constant bombing, wars and murders, with today the greatest number of  murders and incarcerations in the world, often for insignificant drug related charges. Today we have four times more crime than we did then and six times as many murders.  Nobody sued anyone for libel then and no one ended up on Facebook .  

We had guys selling apples on the street corner, but no beggars with homeless signs. Maybe I’m only cherry picking the positive now.   So let’s look more closely.

Was my generation, advertised as Greatest Generation  really all that Great?  When I was young,  African-Americans attended separate and inferior schools, drank out of separate water fountains, sat in the back of the bus and being discriminated against was the least of it. They were often lynched, with their homes and property burned to the ground for the slightest infraction. It wasn’t too many years ago that I read about a black 14 year old kid being tortured and killed by white men, because he whistled at a white woman. 

Nobody dared admit to being a homosexual, if he? wanted to keep his job, be accepted, and not get beaten to death, by other men.   We had neighbor women living together, but it never entered anyone’s mind that they were doing anything other than saving money by bunking together. People with a different religion were ostracized and shunned. 

Women’s place--as the men would constantly reiterate, was in the kitchen and the bedroom.  
Women who worked outside the home were considered inferior.  “She couldn’t get a husband,” was whispered in pitying refrains.

There was no welfare, no unemployment, no social security.  If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat.  My Dad would stand at the gate to the mill and beg the boss for a job.  And if the young adults didn’t have the money to care for their elderly parents, the parent went to the poor farm—considered just about the most horrible place anyone had ever been in.  

It was a time of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” And believe me there were very few spoiled children.  I certainly had my share of beatings Men could also beat up their wives freely, without any fear of legal sanctions. It was impossible for a husband to rape his wife.
At the same time, we lived in terror of being anything but deferential to authority.  Kids would not think of tricking or criticizing their teachers.  According to my mother, “Don’t let me hear that you disobeyed your teacher.”
\ If a teacher had told my Mom I was dsylexic, Mom would have scolded, “Am I raising a dumb ox—or what?”

“But Mama, the teacher said I’m dyslexic.”

“Well, get undyslexic quick, if you know what’s good for you.” I did.  I knew what was good for me.  A beating.

Most of the time we didn’t have enough to eat.  I was always hungry.  The doctor told my mother that my brother and I were malnourished, but so were most of the other kids in school.  Depression cuisine consisted of dried beans, soaked overnight, mildewed bread with the mildew cut off, stuff like wild berries or apples we could swipe off people’s lawn and lots of oatmeal, with an occasional penny candy.  

Kids worked hard.   I weeded the garden, piled wood, washed dishes cleaned house, hung out clothes, picked crops in the summer time, mowed the lawn, etc., and when I was twelve I went to work baby-sitting for twenty-five to fifty cents an evening, Three fourth of the time I wasn’t paid at all.  Then at fourteen I worked, first as a house maid and then in a soda fountain.  I was paid 50 cents for five hours work. 

Men and women died at a much younger age because they had to work so hard, just to survive.  And then when you stop to think of how much happier we were to leave home, in comparison to kids today, who may remain at home until thirty, you wonder what was so nice about the Greatest Generation anyway.   Parents today, who beat their kids are put in prison. Women are much more equal and don’t fear bringing charges of rape.  We’ve made such progress amongst African Americans that we  have a black president—the list of wonders is endless. 

Whether or not, we’re nicer people—probably not, but does that matter.   We live longer, we have enough to eat, maybe too much,  we don’t have to work hard (robots and computers do the difficult work)  African-Americans are given a real shot at college,  we  have so much consumerism, we even have anonymous groups for people called shopaholics and best of all, from my perspective, we have hundreds of people living beyond one hundred years.  

I just think young people are so lucky to be growing up in this country.   I only know how much I love it when I live for a while in another country. And if my generation, that’s been described as great—and docile, really was great and docile,  it was out of fear. So what do you think of that, Mr. Roosevelt?  





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