The Last Ones

This essay struck home because I was born in the time period it is about. I agree with everything the author claims, except for one thing, that is the ducking down under our desks for a bomb drills. Maybe the nuns that taught us did not read the news or or hear news reports. Perhaps they just trusted that God would protect us in the event, but I never heard of anyone in my school ever hiding under his desk to protect himself against an A-bomb. Now, that I think about it the nuns probably knew that the desk would provide little protection against any bomb, and let it be, it is called common sense.



Children of the 1930s & 1940
“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 delivered 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 50’s 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 naïve 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 “advisors” 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 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

We are the ‘last ones.’


Nowhere Else to Go

Wait Until Those Born Before 1945 are Dead

2 Responses

  1. I remember having to hide under my desk during a school drill. I suppose my teachers couldn’t comprehend an A-bomb and they associated the precaution with normal TNT bombs?

  2. There are, perhaps, different challenges and opportunities in each era. Of course, the yearning for an uncomplicated life, is always there.

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