I have to agree with The London Free Press columnist who recently confessed he risked generalizing when writing about life as a baby boomer. His memories are not my memories despite my being a baby boomer. And a chat with some of my friends confirmed that his memories are not theirs either. I think his fears were realized; he slipped into generalizing.
A quick reading of this columnist's piece left me with the feeling that the writer believed baby boomers are a privileged generation. Boomers are about to inherit an estimated $750 billion from their "more frugal" parents, we learn. In one sense, he's right. My parents were frugal. They had to be. They were poor. And both died decades ago. When my mother died, she was living with my wife and me. She had to. She could not afford to live on her own. My mother wasn't one of the privileged class.
My earliest boomer memories are of growing up in a Wartime Housing
neighbourhood. Wartime Housing Ltd. was a federal crown corporation that
built and managed some 32,000 rental homes between 1941 and 1947.
Wartime home was cheap. The walls were scarred with thousands of deep,
round dimples left by the hammer heads wielded by the drywallers who pounded in those nails with far too much haste. No
smoothing plaster hid either the drywall nails or the tape. Our home had gone up quickly, maybe too quickly.
porch was made of two by fours as was the walkway up to our home. A
large, coal-burning, black-iron stove sat in the corner of the living-room. The stove wasn't connected immediately to a chimney but first the hot
exhaust gases meandered through a torturous maze of pipes. This was ugly but the long length of exhaust
piping encouraged the transfer of heat, the better to warm our poorly insulated home. As a young boy, I was well acquainted with Jack Frost who decorated my bedroom windows each winter with thick swirls of icy crystals.
Our coal stove was a
bit of a throwback. Many of my friends had oil stoves. But when it came
to our fridge, I had the bragging rights. Many of my friends' parents
were still using ice-boxes. The blocks of ice were delivered by men
driving horse-drawn wagons as was our bread and milk. The lady who dropped off our eggs once a week was the only delivery person to use a car.
as for cars, no one in my neighbourhood had a new one. Most cars were
at least a decade old and some went all the way back to the twenties. I
liked riding in a rumble seat whenever I got a chance. Cars seemed to
last longer then. I've heard it was because in the early part of the last century not as much salt was spread
on snow-covered winter roads as is done today.
The London Free Press writer tells readers, "When the boomers needed schools, governments built them." He makes all boomers sound spoiled. Maybe he was spoiled but not me. My public school was opened in 1922 and my high school in 1929. The high school still had the same seats and desks screwed to the classroom floors that it had had when the school was built more than three decades earlier. As an early boomer, growing up in the fading shadow of the Great Depression, the old desks just seemed right. Why buy new when the old still works?
My first real job, not just a summer job to earn tuition money to pay for art school, was as a newspaper photographer. It paid $90 a week. Taking inflation into account, that converts to about $560 today. Unlike The Free Press writer, I did not fall easily into a good-paying, full-time job. In fact, I got my first good paying job when the photo department of the newspaper unionized. Our salaries just about doubled overnight. It took workplace militancy, not good luck, to get a decent wage. The silver spoon has constantly eluded me.
I credit unions for more of my supposed good luck than my birth-date When I was injured on the job while still a student, it was the union that fought the company for me and won for me some much needed compensation.
And it was the union that made sure no other workers would be injured in the same way that I had been. The union got the workplace rules changed. All this came as no surprise. When I worked in a plastic injection plant, it was the union that fought for a safe workplace, forcing the company to supply workers with the protective gear to safely perform certain dangerous jobs.
When I stopped working at factories I felt blessed. It was hard work and dangerous work, at least at the factories with which I was familiar. My time on the factory floor left me with a great admiration for skilled factory workers, and yes, factory workers are skilled. Often their skill is very focused but it is a skill nevertheless.
Boomers "largely benefited from decades of steady inflation," according to The Free Press. Maybe for the writer but inflation has been an unsteady bugbear for me. Over my lifetime, inflation has averaged 3.8 percent. I don't believe the Bank of Canada would call that good.
But there was a period, stretching over some nine years, when inflation was out of control. It hit almost 11 percent in 1974, dipped down to 7.6 percent two years later, only to start climbing until it hit 12.5 percent in 1981.
Those were scary times. If you were making $10,400 in 1973, you had to be making $24,430 by 1982 just to stay even with inflation. Tonight, one of my retired friends told me that back then he and his wife had to take out a mortgage at an annual interest rate of 18 percent. Those nine years instilled in him a fear of inflation that I find similar to the fear of another depression that my parents developed during the '30s.
I should say that the writer focused many of his comments on the year 1967, the Centennial year. Somehow, he forgot Bobby Gimby's Canada Song. My wife calls it upbeat and fun. She liked it. I guess I was a curmudgeon even then because I didn't. Thankfully, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot, mentioned in the newspaper article, had more staying power. Listen to both and see what you think.
I must say, I was proud to be Canadian in 1967 but then I was proud to be a Canadian before that and after that as well. I'm not big on pomp and circumstance. I cruised through 1967 without giving much thought to the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill or the world's fair in Montreal.
As a boy in the early '50s, my friends were also boomers and some of them were foreign-born boomers. Some of these kids referred to themselves as a DP -- displaced person. They had come with their parents from Europe to start new lives in a new country, a country which they saw as filled with hope and promise and not the rubble of war and the strife of ethnic divisiveness. Their upbeat, positive take on Canada was contagious.
It's funny. I wasn't smiling when I started this. I found The Free Press piece a little off-putting. Kind of pollyannish. But as I sit here, recalling my childhood and my little boyhood friend with leather embroidered pants, I smile. He and I didn't require a commemorative bronze coloured medallion to remind us that Canada is a good country. He, and I, had Canada to remind us.
I'm posting this but tomorrow or the next day I will add the links.