Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Where Has All My Cohort Gone?

We all started our public life with school. In the beginning, we were the youngest kids around, and everyone in our class was pretty much our age. Year by year, we progressed and became the older kids in that school, and then the youngest in the next. When we entered the work force, we started out the youngest there, as well.

For me, because I was born just ahead of the baby boom, I was always being chased by a crowd. My first grade class had 15 students and had all of the 1st and 2nd graders in the entire school. When we were born it was the very tail end of the Depression and the beginning of WWII -- people couldn't afford to have kids, and then the men were all overseas. Forrest came along just five years after me, and his 1st grade class had 35 students, met only half days so that another class of 35 could have the room the other half, and was one of two classrooms of 1st graders. That's 140 1st graders, as opposed to the 7 in my class. Admittedly, part of that was that we not only did 1st grade in different schools, but in different states. But, still!

For a number of years, the path in front of me was also full of people. There were older students, then older workers -- and that generation was larger than mine as well. And then one day I noticed that there were very few people in the office older than I was and even fewer my age. The older ones were retiring, but I wasn't old enough for that yet. Where, I wondered, had the people my age gone? They hadn't all died, surely! It puzzled me for a good couple of weeks, until I remembered that my age cohort was the teeny tiny waist between the surrounding cohorts. My age mates hadn't retired and they hadn't died. They hadn't ever been born.

I've been the one of oldest people in my last three offices, and the oldest in one of them. I look around and I seldom see anyone who looks like me. There aren't too many who remember things I remember and like music I like and expect certain things to be true. Younger workers don't use serial commas (as in red, blue, and green) and have used calculators their entire lives (which means that when they make a mathematical mistake there is no voice in their head that says, "That answer isn't possible."). Some of them have never seen carbon paper and don't understand what the problem would be for a woman college graduate to be asked her typing speed in a job interview. They don't remember women needing to get permission from their husbands to use their own paychecks to buy stock. Life has been so different for them. They have never kneaded the dye into the margarine and have no idea that it was once illegal to sell it colored yellow, or at all in Wisconsin. They've never been to a double feature or a Saturday afternoon cartoon line-up. They've never heard of the Movie Tone News.

It doesn't make me feel old, but boy does it make me feel lonely!

14 comments:

saz said...

I'm the older part of the boomer crowd and sure can identify with this. I'm not the oldest in my office but look it. I brought up some old movie star the other day and got blank looks. Try asking if people ever heard of comptometers or mangles (as in iron).

Gina said...

I have always had problems sleeping and remember sneaking into the living room to watch old movies when I should have been asleep! My friend and I were just in a flea market and snatched up a bottle of correction fluid for ditto copies...just for a whiff of old time sake! I am a mother to a Maya who is turning 9 today...Glad to meet you!

Ally Bean said...

This is a perfect post and should be required reading for all "kids" under 50. I remember some of the things you mention, but most of them were before my time.

I do remember working with a woman who talked about how in the 1960's she needed to have an emergency hysterectomy-- stat-- she was hemorrhaging. And the surgeon wouldn't do the operation until he talked personally with her husband to make sure it was okay. She could of died in pre-op if her husband hadn't got there asap and given his permission.

Gina said...

I feel your pain, as I am a Gen X'er. We are sandwiched between the baby boomers and Gen Y, both of which are much larger than us. There is a bit of a disenfranchisement associated with a small generation, if you ask me.

meno said...

I don't have anything to say except that i really enjoyed reading this.

J said...

I'm not sure what you meant by this part:

Younger workers don't use serial commas (as in red, blue, and green)

Isn't that how everyone uses commas?

I remember when David N. got a calculator...it added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided. It was BIG, and it cost him about $100. That was even more money in 1974 than it is now. ;)

Maya's Granny said...

J, some people do commas: red, blue and green, leaving off the last one. That comes from the days when newspapers set type by hand, saving every space you could was importatn. Now that computers do it, they can make a letter just a little skinny and take care of that. Meantime, many people left off the final comma. It is like hearing you and her so often that you begin to say it that way.

Now, teachers tell kids to only use the two commas. When I was a kid, we were told that only illiterates left off teh final comma. Hey -- maybe both are right.

kenju said...

I am in pretty much the same boat, and it does feel lonely.

Lorna said...

We must be of an age---when i get lonely for the bad old days, I sit down and watch Far from Heaven--the hair, the clothes, the values.

Ginnie said...

You don't ever have to feel lonely again! I can remember all those things you mentioned. Ugh...how I hated to do the yellow dye in the white margarine stuff...I got it all over my hands. What about party lines (phone ones, that is) and being able to ask the local operator where someone in town had gone? etc, etc. (oh, and was I ticked when I got a checking account in my name and it was a requirement of the bank that my husband sign his approval.)

naomi dagen bloom said...

delighted you spoke up for us tweeners. i'm one, mother to genXers and are they pissed! my children believe all the resources you and i take for granted (sort of) will be disappeared by the boomers. my daughter has been talking about retirement since in her early twenties. makes me sad.

Mary Lou said...

You are not alone any longer!! I am a tad bit older as I am ALMOST 61. Retired, and I do remember the commas that way! When I went back to college in the 80's and was told I was wrong, I was stupified!!! Gosh, I had been using red, green, and yellow for my whole life!

and MOVIETONE NEWS! and the Saturday Serial in between two movies. Both movies together coast you 50 cents, and you could sit there forever and ever and ever and you could sit there and watch them over and over.

I am the first of the babyboomers!

Maya's Granny said...

Mary Lou, Actually, you aren't wrong. The lack of the third comma is acceptable for newspaers and magazines and other casual use. But, the best style books will tell you that the more formal style is necessary for your doctoral thesis. And, notice that scholars use them even in letters to the editor. It's one of those things -- our generation was taught the more formal way and we feel illiterate if we do it the other.

Cuppa said...

Don't be lonely Granny, I am out there with you too.

I remember the squeeze bag of margarine with the little yellow button of colour in the middle of it. Pop the button and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, until the colour was evenly distributed. Then it was ready to open and use. On grocery day, we would all sit around watching tv and each of us would be squeezing a bag of margarine. I can still see it clearly now. Oldest to the youngest working away on the margarine so we would have enough to do us for two weeks. Ah sweet memories.