Baby Boomers recall their own good old days

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Baby boomers: the children born to parents who had endured the hard times of the Great Depression and the deprivations of World War II.

Boomers grew up with the Cold War, the arms race, the polio epidemic, the birth of rock and roll, Beatlemania, the civil rights struggle and the mad scramble to put the first man on the moon.

Born between 1946 and 1964, this group numbers nearly 80 million strong. It's been one of the most influential generations in the nation's history, one of its biggest consumers – and a group that won't go to its rocking chairs quietly.

Born to be wild?

Wayne Harrison of Greenville turns 60 this year, joining a select group of the first baby boomers, including George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Diane Sawyer, Cher and Donald Trump, reaching that milestone birthday.

Harrison may not share their wealth and fame, but he is just as determined to stay young, his wife Pratha says.

&#8220Wayne is fighting getting old by riding motorcycles with his wife, 4-wheelers with his grandson, horseback riding with his daughter and granddaughter, and going on dove shoots and deer hunts with his son-in-law and grandson,” his wife says with a grin.

A fellow baby boomer at 56, Harrison says, &#8220Just trying to keep up with my husband and grandkids is keeping me young.”

Grandchildren also help keep Greenville native Debbie Killough Stafford of Birmingham on her well-manicured toes.

Stafford, who turns 55 in January 2006, says her step-grandchild Hope and new granddaughter, Abbi, keep her busy and in tune with the younger set.

&#8220There are always other things I could be doing, but spending time with the girls

– shopping with Hope, playing with Abbi – is so much fun,” this baby boomer granny says.

Those were the days

Boomers can regale their descendants with tales of rotary-dial telephones, mimeograph machines and roller skates with keys.

It was a time before microwaves and remote controls for everything in the house. Boomers remember the days when kids freely roamed their neighborhoods on bikes and trikes, showed off their hula hoop skills and played Monopoly and Parcheesi instead of PlayStation and X-Box, no batteries or computer chips required.

You traded comic books with your friends (and possibly will never forgive your mom for tossing out your treasured collection of the same).

The children of today might think baby boomers were deprived in their youth. Boomers, however, say &#8220those were the good old days.”

Gerri Castleberry's mother grew up in the Great Depression. Castleberry, 50, recalls learning some great lessons from her mom.

&#8220I remember how she could take anything, anything, and make a meal out of it. We grew up without air conditioning and we had a black-and-white TV. We hung our clothes out to dry. No automatic dryer,” Castleberry says, adding with a smile, &#8220And we didn't feel deprived, either.”

The TV generation

A television was the crown jewel in many a young baby boomer's household and a yearned-for item in the homes of those without the &#8220tube,” as Burke McFerrin of Greenville recalls.

&#8220When I was a little girl growing up in Mobile, we didn't have a TV, but my great-aunt did. I used to go every Saturday morning to watch Big Top Circus and Howdy Doody at her house and eat homemade vegetable soup and cornbread with freshly churned butter.”

It is, McFerrin says, &#8220one of my favorite childhood memories.”

It didn't matter that early screens were tiny, the images in plain old black and white, and viewing choices very limited.

Everyone was fascinated with this new mode of entertainment you could enjoy right in the comfort of your own home.

&#8220Even though we only had a black and white TV picture, everything was fun to watch. Leave it to Beaver, I Love Lucy, The Ricky Nelson Show, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers. Boy, weren't they exciting,” Harrison recalls with a grin.

For a sick child, television could be just what the doctor ordered.

Ellen Haygood Phillips, author and Greenville native, battled polio as a little girl. She has special memories of the year the Haygood family first tuned in to this new experience.

&#8220In the summer of 1955, after I contracted polio the previous summer, Mama and Daddy took Joe, Nan and I (me in my wheelchair) to the beach,” she says.

&#8220Even though Daddy was a big part of the Greenville Lions Club even back then, he had no clue of the plan the Lions had set in motion for this baby boomer.”

The family was rounding the corner back home on Redbud Lane, when Phillips' brother Joe yelled, &#8220Look! There's an antenna on our roof!”

Everyone but Phillips leapt from the car and raced into the house.

Inside, perched on a new shelf high enough for a little girl lying in her bed to easily view, was a brand-new television set.

This &#8220wonderfully entertaining gift” had been planned for, purchased, delivered, and installed, all without her father's knowledge, by his fellow Lions.

&#8220We enjoyed family time each evening in my bedroom, staring transfixed at the tiny black-and-white images cavorting across the screen,” Phillips says.

(She admits upon her return to school on a part-time basis in 1957, &#8220I certainly enjoyed bragging to my fellow fourth graders about my own personal TV.”)

McFerrin's family eventually obtained their own television, and she laughingly recalls her mother's concerted efforts to obtain a picture on the set.

&#8220When you turned the TV on, you got a test pattern, and then you had to fine-tune – and I mean, REALLY fine-tune – to get a channel, any channel, to come in,” McFerrin says.

&#8220My mother tried and tried. Finally she sat back and looked at that test pattern and said, ‘Well, I hope there's more to it than that.”

Television brought the latest musical entertainment, including the first appearance of the Beatles and Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan, events Pratha Harrison and McFerrin recall vividly. (According to some reports, virtually no juvenile crimes were committed in New York City the night of the Beatles' performance).

&#8220I think our youth group all got together and watched that. It was exciting,” McFerrin says.

Baby boomers had a window on life-changing events in the world via television earlier generations didn't have.

&#8220It was amazing to watch someone actually walking on the moon. I also remember watching President John Kennedy being assassinated, and the event to follow with Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby,” Harrison says.

Times to remember –

good and bad

Growing up during the Cold War and watching the escalating arms race between the US and the USSR also meant the ever-present fear for many boomers that an atomic bomb could be dropped and &#8220wipe us all away,” Harrison recalls.

Burke McFerrin's elementary school in Baldwin County was evacuated during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

&#8220It was really, really scary. To this day, I cannot stand to hear an air raid siren,” McFerrin says.

&#8220You saw Castro on the news a lot. You didn't know what was going to happen,” Harrison says.

The civil rights struggle in America gained momentum from the actions of a quiet little Alabama seamstress named Rosa Parks, who rode buses in the same area where six-year-old Pratha and her mother occasionally traveled in downtown Montgomery.

All in all, it was an exciting, exhilarating time to grow up. A time when super heroes, cowboys and red-headed clowns ruled the airwaves, a Coca-Cola in a glass bottle was a nickel, penny candy really cost a penny, and a new car could be had for less than $2,000.

While they love their home computers, cell phones and many other high-tech conveniences, these folks say they wouldn't trade in their boomer memories for anything.

&#8220Looking back makes me seem like I am really ancient. But those were truly the ‘good old days.' I loved them and look back with pride that, yes, I was a part of all that,” Harrison says.

&#8220It was a good time to grow up,” Castleberry says.