Retired software engineer. "What is that?", you may ask. It's someone who has time to blog about the weather...
By: Bogon , 10:42 PM GMT on June 05, 2012
In 1889 my grandfather was born into a different world. It was a world powered by horses and steam engines. It had been twenty years — one generation — since the opening of the transcontinental railroad. The United States was becoming a world leader in industry and innovation. Major technology companies that we might recognize by their acronyms today — American Telephone & Telegraph, General Electric, Standard Oil and Westinghouse — were also being born. Then, as now, unscrupulous businessmen made the news, drove the economy and manipulated politicians. It was the Gilded Age.
My grandfather was named after Grover Cleveland, who in 1884 became the first Democratic presidential candidate elected since before the American Civil War. The Democratic Party ruled the South. It was the party of resentment. Republican Abraham Lincoln had presided over the defeat of the southern states during the war. Generations of ex-Confederates could not forgive or forget.
For generations of American Blacks, the majority of whom lived in the South, the promise of emancipation went largely unfulfilled. The system was systematically rigged against them.
Grandpa grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina. That part of the world was relatively unaffected by many of these events and issues. On the steep and remote mountain land there had been no plantations and therefore no slavery. There was little industrialization. As a young man my grandfather worked for one of the companies that logged timber throughout the region, until he had enough money to buy land of his own, and until the wholesale depredation of virgin forest prompted the formation of the National Forest Service.
Grandpa raised a family on his patch of ground. Through the Roaring Twenties and into the Great Depression he was able to eke out a living by being self-sufficient. For a while he operated a grist mill. He raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Grandma kept a garden. They had a spring for water, and they burned wood for fuel. They never had much cash, so the ups and downs of the external economy didn't make much difference.
In 1921 my father was born into a different world, a world rattled and rearranged by war. It had been exactly a century since the advent of mass production using interchangeable parts, a process adopted by Ransom Olds and Henry Ford for the manufacture of automobiles. At Ford's plant in Detroit a new Model T rolled off the line every fifteen minutes. It was the second year of Prohibition. Then, as now, supporters of the Republican Party believed that they could legislate morality. Some of Dad's tales mentioned moonshine, usually with a smile. :o)
Prohibition was repealed by the time Dad was a teenager. Betty Boop's implied promise of legalized beer became a reality. We still live with Prohibition's legacy, however, in the form of organized crime and the so-called "War on Drugs". It's still a game of Baptists and Bootleggers.
One of the significant differences in Dad's world was his opportunity for education. Dad attended a little neighborhood schoolhouse, the land for which had been carved out of one end of Grandpa's farm. The school was painted white, and it had a bell tower almost like a church. I'm old enough to have seen the (disused and ruined) building before it was torn down. It wasn't the stereotypical one-room schoolhouse; it had two or three.
As Dad described those days, there was a great deal of community support for education. His parents and teachers told him that, if he ever hoped to "amount to something", he needed to do well in school. So he did.
By the time he was ready for secondary school, there was a school bus to take him there. The high school was in the town of Mars Hill. There also was Mars Hill College, the logical next step. The small college offered a two-year program, after which Dad moved on to Western Carolina Teachers College (now a state university) in Cullowhee. Grandpa couldn't supply much in the way of funding, but Dad made up for that with motivation. He worked his way to a college degree, the first ever awarded to a native of his rural mountain hollow.
The next major development in Dad's life was set in motion by a contemporary of my grandfather, a fellow named Adolf Hitler. World War II was a big deal for my parents' generation. The economy had rebounded from the Depression, but now there was rationing. Everybody was enjoined to support the war effort. Eventually Dad chose to volunteer in the Army Air Force rather than take a chance on the draft board. He never tired of telling "war stories". I'd like to explain about all his heroic actions as a bomber pilot, but that's not how it worked out. The Air Force shipped Dad all over the country for training. As the war progressed and the needs of the service changed, as new technology was developed and better planes deployed, Dad's assignment kept changing, and they would ship him to another unit. Dad never fired a shot. The war ended before he ever got there. One of his last duties as a cadet was to ferry a brand new shiny B-32 to its ultimate destination... for demolition. When he told that story, he would always look down and sadly shake his head.
Following the war many returning veterans got married and started families. Millions of babies were born within a few years. All those babies made a big bulge on the demographic chart, rather like the bulge a rabbit makes after being devoured by a boa constrictor. That bulge was called the Baby Boom. That's where I come in.
This entry has gotten long enough. I'll talk about m-my g-g-generation next time.
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