Saying Goodbye to a Generation
By NANCY PATRICK
As a baby boomer, I’ve enjoyed this label that has always reminded me of the end of WWII. Although my generation actually includes people born between 1946 and 1964, I generally think of my generation as the kids of the 1950s.
The 1950s exudes an image of innocence, family values, and spiritual commitment. Many of the young adults had served in the military and brought home with them a sense of patriotism they passed on to their children.
These men and women who served in WW II—some in the military and others in civilian capacities that aided the war effort—wanted to rebuild our country. Many of them had not finished high school when they entered the service, but they returned home eager to find any available work to support their young families.
Born in 1950, I experienced similar childhoods of many of my peers. We had dads who had jobs to support their families and moms who stayed at home to take care of most, if not all, of the domestic side of life. That included taking care of children, cooking, shopping, doing laundry, and often gardening to provide fresh vegetables for the table.
Rather than the idealistic image of Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best, the 1950s were years of rebuilding the social ruin of WWII. The parents of the fifties represented what became known as the Greatest Generation.
On November 4, 2021, I said goodbye to the last person of that generation in my entire family. On my father’s side, my dad and his older brother both served in WWII. My Uncle Raymond closed out that side of the family a year ago when he died at age 94. On my mother’s side, my Aunt Faye recently ended that side of my family when she passed at the age of 89.
I confess a feeling of sadness and loneliness as I contemplate the rest of my life without anyone left in my parents’ generation. As children, the lucky ones enter a pre-made family of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and, sometimes, siblings.
Again, if lucky, we may live a very long time with at least some of that original family. In fact, many of my generation enter their own senior years before they lose the last of the former generation.
As I listened to the minister talk about Aunt Faye, I thought of my early life with my parents and extended family. In the 1950s, most people did not have clothes dryers in their homes. We did have washing machines, but all the laundry was hung on clothes lines to dry and then taken down, sprinkled with water, and ironed. And yes, my mother’s generation insisted on ironing all their families’ clothes. They would have been mortified to send their kids to school with wrinkled clothes.
Since the majority of families had stay-at-home moms (housewives then), these mothers cooked every day. In my family, my mother and aunts cooked a hot breakfast every morning, prepared lunch (we called it dinner) for their husbands if they came home for their lunch breaks (my dad did), and then cooked dinner (we called it supper).
My own dad thought every meal had to have bread and dessert, so my mom baked almost every day. A cake might have lasted two or three days, but our family of four consumed a pie in one day. I know from visiting my cousins’ homes that their moms did the same. Feeding the family was a point of pride. I never heard the term “take-out” as a child.
Most of the women in the Greatest Generation took Home-Ec (home economics) classes in high school. Those included cooking, sewing, and budgeting. My mother and aunts were excellent seamstresses. Mom made all her own clothes as well as my sister’s and mine. She even made our wedding dresses and veils.
I fondly remember some of my dresses made by my mother. One sheath dress had a panel of tiny tucks from the neck to the hem. Those tucks, straight as arrows, took much of my mother’s time as she lovingly made them.
Another of my favorite dresses, a beige A-line with a collar of scallops all around the neck, made me feel beautiful. I actually wore it on the stage of Lincoln Junior High School in the eighth grade when I made a speech as a candidate for a student council office (no, I didn’t win). That dress and that speech gave me enough confidence to realize that I didn’t have to be a wall flower for the rest of my life.
Another task many women of that generation pursued included gardening. Since my own family had become a town family, we didn’t have a garden spot, but all my relatives who remained in Arkansas lived in the country. My grandmothers and aunts didn’t plant little patches of garden veggies. They planted humongous gardens!
They raised all kinds of vegetables—squash, green beans, black-eyed peas, carrots, collards, turnip greens, and beautiful tomatoes. They tilled the soil, planted the seeds, weeded, and harvested the crops, preparing them for canning or freezing. These women amazed me with their energy and talent as they displayed shelves of beautiful canned vegetables. They also made jams, jellies, and preserves from berries they had grown.
I accept that times change, and I confess that I don’t think I could have managed what my grandmothers, mother, and aunts accomplished. Yes, times have changed and will continue to change, but let us not glibly allow a generation’s legacy to go without honor and respect for what they did and instilled in their children. I miss them.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing