Children of the 1930s & 1940s
“The Last Ones”
A Short Memoir
Born in the 1930s and early 1940s, we exist as a very special age cohort. We are the “last ones.”
We are the last, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the war itself with fathers and uncles going off.
We are the last to remember ration books for everything from sugar to shoes to stoves.
We saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans.
We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available.
My mother received milk in a horse drawn cart.
We are the last to hear Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to see gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors.
We can also remember the parades on August 15, 1945; VJ Day.
We saw the ‘boys’ home from the war build their Cape Cod style houses, pouring the cellar, tar papering it over and living there until they could afford the time and money to build it out.
We are the last who spent childhood without television; instead imagining what we heard on the radio. As we all like to brag, with no TV, we spent our childhood “playing outside until the street lights came on.” We did play outside and we did play on our own. There was no little league.
The lack of television in our early years meant, for most of us, that we had little real understanding of what the world was like. Our Saturday afternoons, if at the movies, gave us newsreels of the war and the holocaust sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons. Newspapers and magazines were written for adults. We are the last who had to find out for ourselves.
As we grew up, the country was exploding with growth. The G.I. Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow. VA loans fanned a housing boom. Pent up demand coupled with new installment payment plans put factories to work. New highways would bring jobs and mobility. The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics.
In the late ’40s and early ’50s the country seemed to lie in the embrace of brisk but quiet order as it gave birth to its new middle class. Our parents understandably became absorbed with their own new lives. They were free from the confines of the depression and the war. They threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined.
We weren’t neglected but we weren’t today’s all-consuming family focus. They were glad we played by ourselves ‘until the street lights came on.’ They were busy discovering the post war world.
Most of us had no life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide we simply stepped into the world and went to find out. We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where we were welcomed. Based on our naive belief that there was more where this came from, we shaped life as we went. We enjoyed a luxury; we felt secure in our future.
Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in this experience. Depression poverty was deep rooted. Polio was still a crippler. The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 1950s and by mid-decade school children were ducking under desks. China became Red China. Eisenhower sent the first “advisers” to Vietnam. Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.
We are the last to experience an interlude when there were no existential threats to our homeland. We came of age in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, climate change, technological upheaval and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt life with insistent unease. Only we can remember both a time of apocalyptic war and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty. We experienced both.
We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better not worse. We did not have it easy. Our wages were low, we did without, we lived within our means, we worked hard to get a job, and harder still to keep it. Things that today are considered necessities, we considered unreachable luxuries. We made things last. We fixed, rather than replaced. We had values and did not take for granted that “Somebody will take care of us”. We cared for ourselves and we also cared for others. We are the ‘last ones.’
This writing is possibly based on a piece by the renown author James Fenimore Cooper and updated to the time of the person who penned this version. I include it here for those who have not read it elsewhere, as it is widely published in newsletters and such. I believe it may resonate with those of us who were born in the 1930s and ’40s, but people born later will update it once again to fit their own era.