Growing Up In America
(To listen to Yul
Brenner singing "Is a Puzzlement" from "The King & I" start
this MP3 player)
I was born in 1950, one of the large "Baby Boomer" generation. We grew up in the shadow of World War II. Educated in the ways of the late 19th & early 20th centuries we made a spin into the late 20th & early 21st centuries. We watched dial-less phones (you gave the operator the number) transform into cell phones. Linoleum and man made materials were spreading quickly. Japan miniaturized battery-powered radios, which actually fit a pocket!
(To listen to Alan Sherman singing "Here's to the Crabgrass" start this MP3 player)
Everyone tried to fit the middle class homogeneous image of the Cleavers, Reeds and etc. That was not the reality. America from colonial times has been a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. Accepting the mix has never been easy for America which was seen as a mostly middle class, Anglo-Saxon, protestant nation. The 20th century saw the struggle for recognition by minorities in many forms.
One of my earliest memories is of a gate at a pool I was going to with friends in New Jersey. As I walked up I saw a sign "No Jews Allowed". I knew it meant me but couldn't understand why. 15 years later in Tennessee I pulled up to a gas station and my sister asked to use the rest room. She and our Jamaican friend came running back to the car saying "come, you have to see this". So my Japanese roommate and I followed. What they had found was that on the two restrooms were new signs reading "men" & "ladies". Above the doors were deeply engraved letters in many coats of paint. The letters had recently been removed but the impressions were clear. They read
"Coloured" & "White". Well after all that was only 26 years after my father had upset the local townspeople while passing through during basic training. He was going to drink from a water fountain painted yellow. Well he was a young Yankee and not familiar with the practice of painting things yellow that were for "colored" use only.
I Don't mean to sound like it was so bad growing up. In spite of ethnic, racial & religious bigotry permeating most of society in the 50's & 60's it was a good time. Childhood should be fun. It is a time of exploration and testing what you can do. That time before you go out on your own and begin taking on the burdens of responsibility and obligations that mark the middle years.
We grew up in the shadow of World War II. Survivors of the concentration camps were living reminders of what levels cruelty can reach, but also how strong we are. In the 50's & 60's there was an economic boom. Things were changing fast in every way and it was a time of optimism. John Kennedy was president and whether you liked or hated him (few were in the middle), his presidency was touted through the press as a symbol of a young vigorous nation. He was the youngest elected President the country had ever had. Theodore Roosevelt was younger when he took over from McKinley but older when elected on his own. Kennedy symbolized the young generation that had been the soldiers of WWII. They are my generation's parents. From WWII our flight into outer space was born. NASA's space project fascinated me as a boy. Nothing seemed to symbolize a new world more than some day journeying in space. A monkey tossed into the stratosphere became the dream of hearing Captain Kirk say "beam me up Scotty"
The slogan "Never Again!" rang with a call for a new world order. Although optimistic, the period saw the Cold War, Korean Conflict, Vietnam Police Action, Somalia, Grenada, Desert Storm, the present "War on Terrorism" and many smaller conflicts that we were in or avoided letting other nations fight. That time which to me was full of play and learning, thinking of what I would do some day, yet I doubt the world has seen more than a few days of actual peace between WWII and now.
As children we were more concerned with doing things our way than what was going on in the world. Elvis Presley had gotten attention for a new style that became rock and roll. Music became a symbol of our generations search for a new way. Hair was grown long in rebellion. Conservative America dug in its heels in resistance to what many thought was influenced by the devil. Music got wild, sexual activity was flaunted and using drugs proliferated. Playboy magazine made it to the news stands. The ties to tradition were being cut. Now I look back and laugh realizing the same thing had been done in colonial America. Cutting our ties to tradition has a long tradition in America.
I also picked up many of my Mother's interests. I learned about Gilbert & Sullivan's operettas. From both parents I ended up with a varied appreciation of music going from Eddie Canter, Bing Crosby, Crazy Otto, Paul Robeson, Burl Ives, Classical Jazz. These were a spring board to which I added my own appreciation for The Supremes, The Temptations, Toni Braxton, TLC, Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese music. They are both interested in animals and plants, which I have continued. I also took my parents taste for Chinese food and expanded to an appreciation of food from around the world. This was perhaps a natural step for an American who grew up with American, German and Russian foods and special meals being Chinese. You might see why I would view being American, as being a bit of everywhere.
Today I think many are coming to realize that trying to make everyone into one mold is not realistic. To do so is to be blind and indifferent to the lessons of the past. We need to open our eyes from all sides and appreciate the differences. Reality indeed differs from perspective.