Hominy & Hash
DEFINING A DISTANT GENERATION
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Finding an precise definition of "generation" is a formidable task. My preconceived notion was that I am of the same generation as all the children of my parents, the children of their siblings (my first cousins) and the growing families around the globe contemporary to my parents.
The right definition, however, is "the entire body of individuals born around the same time." I was not of my sister's generation at all; she was 20 years older than I and her friends were marrying and having babies. I was part of the next generation.
My sister, born in 1912, came of age as a "flapper," part of the Roaring '20s. I came of age as a bobby soxer in the late '40s, and the five brothers between th two of us were part of the great generation struggling through their coming of age in the Great Depression and then fighting in World War II.
I was too young to feel the poverty of the Depression, protected as we were by our families. ("She's going to have what we never had" was the rubric, spoiling me with love.) The war years were exciting on the home front, saving cans, preparing for blackouts when the alarm sounded, rolling balls of silver foil and string, writing in our childish hand to servicemen around the world. But, that wasn't our generation, it was theirs.
I wanted to dance to their music, dress in their styles, to be part of that decadent decade before my time came.
I told my mother this as we criss-crossed the kitchen drying dishes and put them away; she said she felt that way about the "Gay Nineties." She spoke of songsters, male and female both, with voices to charm the birds from trees, and an air about them that kept an audience enthralled.
A popular '40s radio show was called the "Gay Nineties," star Beatrice Kay would literally belt out "I'm only a bird in a gilded cage, my beauty was sold for an old man's gold," and my mother would cringe, changing the station immediately. It was raucous, background sounds were coins clinking, glasses sliding across a bar, an old drunk sobbing as she sang.
Mama wasn't exactly comfortable with the music of my budding generation either when she had to listen to "mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey a kiddlely divey too, wouldn't you?" Or, "Hubba, hubba, hubba, you talk big." Then, of course, we all learned to sing and dance to "Chickoree Chick Chala Chala, Checkalaromi in a Bananica, Bollicka Wallicka, can't you see, Chickoree Chick is me." These were not nonsense songs, they were climbing the charts for Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and top singers of the time.
Although I got in on the fun, it still wasn't "my time," which came ever so gently as the music segued from Swing to BeBop to Rock and Roll. I think I can say my generation is in the warp between Swing and BeBop, dropping off after "Rock around the Clock," never finding my pulse carrying the beat of Rock and Roll, and only offering only an appreciative nod to the Beatles. Well, OK, Elvis did get to me.
I'm in this groove tonight (that's a pun) because I received a postcard (believe it or not, people still send them), more or less saying what postcards do: "wish you were here." This was from a young friend, typed as Generation X, written as he was leaving Lincoln Center in New York City after the last performance of Midsummer Night Swing. It was "At the Savoy," he said, "along with other wonderful music from the period." His comment on the card was "I was born in the wrong generation."
I know the feeling. I yearned to be with my brothers and sisters dancing on tabletops in fringed dresses, bobbed hair, boop-a-doop attitudes, silver flasks tucked into rolled-down stockings, roadsters, rumble seats. Wow, that would have been "swell." Or, to be part of the war effort as an Army Nurse instead of a kid collecting cans. Yes, I would have liked that.
But, tonight, I'm studying "my" generation. I wouldn't trade the 1950s in New York City for any other era, in any other place. I have absolutely no regrets about my time slot, neatly tucked between social changes that hardly impacted on me at the time . I slipped by before the sexual revolution, the Pill, civil protest, civil disobedience, do your own thing, let it all hang out, and listen to music 100 decibels above the recommended range.
If my mother (1887-1969) and I sat down for a cup of tea we would not find ourselves at odds. I would not call her old-fashioned and she would not consider me out of touch with reality. My generation and hers would be pleasing to both of us. She died a day after the moon landing and had been delivered by a doctor who arrived on horseback.
There is one crucial difference. She couldn't hear the music of her life in the same sound and tempo I can. Her music was usually parodied or "jazzed up," as she would say. Mine has always been available. Swing music, big bands, crooners . they're still around and still coming up. If our generation is an entire body of individuals born at the same time, then you can call us lucky; we're in the right place at the right time.
When I look at our children's generation, one evening stands out: Bruce Springstein was in a live concert in Pittsburgh. When our sons and daughters came home, they were all aglow and still waving their arms over their heads and singing: "Born -- in the U.S.A," over and over. I think it was a case of words over music, sentiment over sound. It had impact. I would have liked to be part of that.
As a follow-up to the postcard, my generation X friend writes: "Yearning for another time ... sometimes that is the case ... yearning for the past. But we also yearn for our future ... and wonder when will it get started ... and the urgency with which we need to make ourselves happy and content in our present in order to be ready for the future. But then again? 'Ready for our future?' Can we be ready for anything? "Go with the flow!