Is It Possible for a Baby Boomer to Have a Personal History?
I didn’t invent Silly Putty, play at Woodstock or star on The Brady Bunch.What can I possibly offer to the annals of the largest — but definitely not greatest — generation in U.S. history?
As Baby Boomers, we’ve witnessed historic Civil Rights legislation, the Sexual Revolution, the Cold War, Vietnam, the first man on the moon, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King. We were shocked to learn that Rock Hudson died of AIDS.
We’ve seen presidents from Eisenhower to Trump take office and the Tea Party take hold of the American imagination. We ducked and covered to shield ourselves from Russian bombs. We watched the planes hit the Twin Towers over and over again on television.
We were the last generation to be drafted and the first generation to receive the polio vaccine. And, we pretty much wrote the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
As someone born in the middle of the 20th Century, I sometimes feel swallowed by my own demographic. The monumental events in my lifetime are all neatly chronicled by Billy Joel in We Didn’t Start the Fire or preserved on You Tube.
It occurs to me that there is a void when it comes to personal history. Not just stories about me, me, me — but stories about how it felt to be a kid, or a teen, a young adult — a white, cis-gender girl and woman — in a certain place and time.
I’ll start with a very short story.
THE DAY I LOOKED FOR SPUTNIK
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched a beachball-sized satellite to orbit the world in an elliptical path.
I was almost five years old, living with my family in Crystal Lakes, Ohio, in a rental house with a yard large enough for a swingset. My dad, a Captain in the Air Force, was a test pilot at nearby Wright-Patterson Field. My mom was nine months pregnant with my sister.
Late in the afternoon of Oct. 6, Mom was lying down for a rest before dinner, while Barney, my 12-year-old science geek brother tuned in for the latest update on Sputnik.
“Change the channel! I want to watch cartoons!” I whined, standing before the black-and-white television in our knotty pine living room.
“Be quiet!” Barney waved me away. We weren’t allowed to say shut up, but I knew he wanted to.
On TV, there was a strange beep from a picture of a ball with spikes coming out of it. Men with deep voices pointed to a map where something they called “Sputnik” was going to appear in the sky.
I headed for the back yard, letting the screen door slam behind me, and ran for the swingset. I pumped higher and higher on my swing, searching the sky for the Sputnik, listening for its beep. Nothing.
I bailed out of the swing and landed in a mud puddle, ready to be grounded again. I dug my fingers into the mud and patted out four neat pies. I smeared more mud on my forearms, pretending to make long, dark gloves.
Just then, I heard the crunch of gravel in the driveway, and ran to greet Daddy, who was pulling up in his two-tone green Ford. At that moment, I knew that wherever Sputnik was, it was never going to crash into our house.