1/20: Boom or Bust?

By John Sparks

Each year when Beloit College releases its Mindset List about the traits of the entering freshman class, I am reminded of something I find myself saying more and more often … this is not the world I was born into.

sparks-caricature-440I am a classic Boomer born in 1947.  World War II was history.  My world in Texas reflected what was going on in other parts of the country … growth, housing starts, and the height of the military-industrial complex created out of necessity to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan.  The United States was a manufacturing giant, and my generation has always been the trend setters, the driving force behind the economy, and the beneficiaries of the Greatest Generation — our parents — whose values and determination strived to make the world a better place for us.  Born in the Great Depression, they never wanted us to do without.  The American Dream was the goal — everyone living in a house in the suburbs with a two car garage and a college education.

Polio was the dreaded disease.  Health insurance was not an entitlement.  Doctors made house calls, and we paid them in cash.  When I was six years old, my mother placed me in an experimental program to help find a vaccine for polio.  A couple of years later, we had the Salk vaccine followed by the Sabin vaccine.

Davy Crockett was the King of the Wild Frontier, and Walt Disney capitalized on him in one of the first mass marketing campaigns utilizing the new magic box in our living room — the television.  Television would play a formidable role in our lives, and for me, personally.  I would spend 40 years of my adult life working in television news.

As a child, I recall the times as optimistic and fun.  The shadow of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation were ever-present, but my day to day concerns were of cowboys, baseball, Boy Scouts and later on cars and girls.  We all felt we would live forever as invulnerable as another television and comic book hero, Superman.  Somehow our parents protected us from fears of doom, drought, and an economic recession that hit us in the 1950’s.  I never spent a waking hour thinking about retirement.

I barely remember Harry Truman.  The first real president I do remember was a grandfather-like figure who came on the television on rare occasions — Dwight Eisenhower.  The world would stop when that happened, and everyone would watch and listen closely.

The optimism of my pre-teen years was followed with the youthful vigor of our next president, John F. Kennedy.  He inspired us into believing we could send a man to the moon, and he talked about the torch being passed on to a new generation — us.

I saw President Kennedy in person on the morning he was assassinated.  I was at the breakfast at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth where he spoke just hours before he was gunned down in Dallas.  I could have reached out and touched him in the motorcade as it left the Hotel.

Many have written that the shots that rang out in Dealey Plaza marked the transition from an age of innocence.

Regardless of when, somewhere along the way, things went awry.  Some of it was our own undoing.  Some of it for all good intentions were the mistakes of our parents.

The verve turned to violence and Vietnam.  We began to question the status quo.   We had all the answers.  Our next president from an older generation vowed to end poverty with his Great Society.  He failed.

We had Earth Day and became aware of our environment.   We became the Woodstock Generation, and we thrived on drugs, sex, and rock and roll.

Believe it or not, though, forty years have passed, and in the course of time in the year 2010, those of us still kicking have survived many more periods of ups and downs.  Greed and corruption have always been present.  Every age has its own perils and promise.  Today, it’s terrorists, technology, and Tweets.  Tomorrow?  Who knows?

Of concern lately has been the results of a survey indicating that for the first time Americans feel like the country’s better days are behind us and not ahead.  Financial forecasts tell us to be prepared to work way past the age we thought we would retire.  Alzheimer’s is a growing concern of many of us as medical strides have lengthened our lifespan.

We Boomers are coming to grips with our own mortality.  As the world turns, our youth has given way to gray hair and wrinkles, but along with the fears and trepidation, this Boomer remains an optimist.

The earth still spins on its axis.  Life is still worth living.  The glass is far more than half full, and I continue to be blessed with new friends and new experiences.  I am thankful for being born when I was and for experiencing life as part of the Baby Boomer Generation.  I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

I also look forward to 2011 and to continue sharing interviews and insights with our Marist followers.  Happy New Year!

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