Today I crossed a major milestone: I now qualify for Medicare. Yes, I am a Baby Boomer, and I am proud of it!
My first memory is of me looking out my bedroom window watching some kids walk through the empty field next to my suburban Chicago home. I must have been 2 years old. It was as if, for some reason, my brain suddenly decided to start recording at that moment. I was briefly startled, but soon regained my composure. From that moment, the memories came flooding in.
My first educational experience was at a Catholic school. The nuns were very strict, and I got hit with a ruler more than once. But my crimes were always misdemeanors, like talking out of turn in class or writing on the blackboard.
One day, all of the students were administered the new polio vaccine. Actually, some of the students got the vaccine while others got a placebo. It was one of the earliest tests of Dr. Jonas Salk's miracle vaccine. My parents had agreed to allow me to participate; I think I got the vaccine.
I laugh now when I think of the air raid drills we students endured. We would regularly practice hiding under our desks, which we were instructed to do in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. The school also had a bomb shelter that was so well stocked with canned foods and water that there wasn't a lot of room for humans. To convey the urgency of the situation, school officials showed students civil defense films of atom bombs going off. "Sir, forgive me, but are you sure we'll be safe under our desks?"
Somewhere around this time I received my first exposure to politics. I proudly wore an "I Like Ike" button on my shirt, even though I only vaguely knew who General Dwight David Eisenhower was. I watched a bit of the political conventions on our black and white RCA television, which occupied a prominent spot in our living room. Our favorite television newscaster was John Cameron Swayze ("and the Camel News Caravan"). Edward R. Murrow was our favorite radio newsman. But there was no television or radio while we were eating dinner.
In the early fifties television was in its infancy, but it was quickly growing in popularity. My sister and I watched Kukla, Fran and Ollie almost every day. It was an entertaining and endearing puppet show that appealed to children but was popular with adults too. Then Captain Kangaroo came along, and his show would air on CBS at 8 A.M. weekday mornings for the next thirty years.
Most of my free time was spent outdoors playing in our big backyard or in the field next to our house. When my dad got me a bike, I was scared to learn how to ride it. It got increasingly tense over the course of several days as my dad became impatient with me. One weekend afternoon, he ordered me to get on the bike and said he would run alongside of me while firmly holding onto the seat so the bike wouldn't crash. As we rode along, I detected that my dad had stopped running. I glanced back and saw him standing in the distance. Yes, I was actually riding my bike! I loved it!
Not too long after that, my dad told my mother she had to learn how to drive. Mom was scared to death of driving and resisted mightily. Our house was in a rural western suburb where most of the side roads were a combination of gravel and potholes. But my dad did not want to play chauffeur every time my mom wanted to go somewhere. So he told her she had to learn to drive or she would have to walk to the grocery store, which was two miles from the house. She got her driver's license, but she absolutely hated driving for the rest of her life.
Our first dog was a collie and we named her Lady. We did not want to name her after Lassie, the first dog with a television show named after her. Regretfully, Lady was hit by a car and killed just down the road from our house. It was my first loss. By coincidence, not too long after that my father moved our family to a new house thirty miles away. I made new friends and I rode my bike all over town.
But as I look back, it seems that my earliest memories are all in black and white. This goes for the nuns, the students, the town and even the giant garden in our backyard. There were good guys, the United States, and bad guys, the Soviet Union. The films of atomic bomb explosions were in black and white, as was news footage of President Dwight Eisenhower. So, too, was Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who had a gunfight with the bad guys in the movie High Noon. As were the Lone Ranger and Tonto, who helped tame the Wild West, and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who hosted a television show called Life is Worth Living. Every thing seemed so much simpler then.
While I share many memories with millions of Baby Boomers, I wonder: how could time go by so quickly, where have all the years gone? Maybe that's not all I lost. As Shakespeare said In Much Ado About Nothing, "When the age is in, the wit is out."