Essay ~ Generational Changes
This essay was written five years ago, when my mother was still walking the earth. The intent at the time had to do with the changes taking place, and what that meant, and how those changes affected the different generations. Those changes continue unabated, with the resultant differences are commensurate with how they are accepted by said generations. The essay is just fat of 250 words. I believe they are just as pertinent today, and continue to resonate with the generations in different ways. Thus, the reason for posting an old essay.
My dear sweet mother will arrive in Tucson today, in a sleek new mini-van, twenty-five years junior to my VW van. I don't find this difference in our vehicles objectionable in the least. It seems to me to represent our differences in tastes, and budgets. Actually, seeing my mother tooling down the highway in an old Volkswagen van, is a bizarre image for me. You just have to know my sweet mother to know why. I was able to coax her onto the back-side of a motorcycle for the thrill of experiencing motorcycle riding. Once.
However, this brings to mind other generational relationships that, when juxtaposed, define the evolving American cultural ideals of aging, and the Golden Years. This is but one slice of the total array of cultural evolutionary changes over the past fifty-years, however, it is a significant one. The word 'Senior', as to describing elder citizens, has a life span less than my own, and was primarily propagated by its commercial value in depicting the desired 'Golden Years'. For my grandmother, this would have been high-art in humor
This year's arrival of the ancestors has given me much to think about in terms of changes in my lifetime, and theirs. Historically, change is the vehicle for which time rides, and is thereby measured. Observing a time-span of some one-hundred years is all but meaningless without comparing points of change, or progress in some form. Outside the circles of Earth Science practitioners, discussing various periods of time usually involves speaking of, and comparing the changing elements within that span of time. The current elements of social change within the past one-hundred years is unprecedented in the annals of our written history.
When I think about my grandparents generation, I am left to viewing them through the eyes of a grandchild, who's memories serve up a time and place reserved reverently in a recent chapter of American History. It would seem a normal progression of social evolution without accounting for the short span of time involved. Being a post-war generation, my generation rode upon the coattails of Industry and change. As the record shows, change came in a big way. The question in my mind is, how would our grandparents perceive us, in our lifestyles as grandparents? Being that many of our grandparents are still around to tell us, it would seem a legitimate question. Are we listening?
My memories of grandma entail a small, thin little old wrinkled lady, wearing a 5th Ave. hat with veil, full dress regalia including gloves & perfume, walking me to the neighborhood bus-stop for a trip downtown for a haircut and candy corns. Grandpa's most diligent role was in telling me stories at bedtime about Chief Rain in the Face, thereafter disappearing altogether until time for the next story. Being a contractor and carpenter, whatever it was he did with his time, it was done outside of the home. For grandma, her life was the home, and any time she went out, it was for necessities.
There were definitive roles for grandparents in those times. There seemed little confusion over who's duty it was to fulfill any given daily task, or socially expected role. The mantra of my childhood memory was "a place for everything, and everything in its place." Grandma fixing a leaky faucet, or grandpa in the kitchen for anything other than eating was not something which was ever seen by any of us grandkids. Our role was to be seen, not normally heard, unless it was important. Another quaint notion dimly remembered by this grandparent generation. A practice which has faded into oblivion with other social expectations of children's sobriety, duty and honor. It was an adult world then. It is a child's world today.
Important then, was reporting an open wound, a salesman at the door, or inquiring about the next meal. In today's world of child-focused schedules, the parent-child relationship has evolved into a contractual partnership of co-balanced careers. Merely 'hanging out', for youngsters, is seen with disdain, through a socially wary eye. Progress takes on many forms, some of which are ultimately realized to be far less attractive than was previously imagined at inception. With progress, come the inherent social changes.
Social expectations are a somewhat resistant to change over time. Social change comes about very begrudgingly, and usually only through necessity or industrial innovations which demand it. The friction of social progress occurs between the old-guards of tradition and the new generations' embracing change. It is an old story, with new twists. The more significant twist being the ever shortening time-span of innovation and change as it unfolds today.
Historically, the beginning of America's industrial lifestyle can be traced to the lineage of scientific breakthroughs which redefined the means of production, transportation and communication within the cultural setting. The telephone, electric light bulb and automobile were but three inventions which altered the way Americans went about their daily lives. Even taking these changes into account, in those days, the precepts of family life remained very much unchanged in comparison to today's standards.
Today, the personal computer has begun to define a new era of change in the lives of a vast majority of Americans, in the way they purchase goods, track their accounts, communicate with friends and family, invest their money and operate their businesses. The changes in technology allow for changes in personal lifestyle and means for attaining one's financial goals. The automobile allowed a large segment of the American population to reach the industrial sites which cropped up in the first half of this century, increasing the earning power of such families. The advent of the personal computer is allowing a growing number of business commuters to turn this around, and give them outlet to accomplish their work at home.
The changes derived from the technological advances also alters the social habits and expectations, and cultural norms which might otherwise remain more constant without such innovations. Whereas it might seem to Americans today that the changes over the past fifty-years is somewhat subtle, through the lens of our grandparents' perspective, the world would seem very different indeed. Possibly even irreverent or brazen. Much of what we herald as necessity, they might see as wasteful, unnecessary and even churlish.
Seemingly, one of the more obvious changes is in how the children of today interact with the world around them. With the advent of the VCR and home movie, video-games, portable electronic devices, digital telephones and computers, children once deemed simple minded and clue-less are proving to be anything but. By the time most adolescents are old enough to attend some form of school, they have watched thousands of hours of programming. By the time they are heading to middle-school, an evolution of its own, they are intimately aware of the many foibles of human behavior, and are sexually sophisticated. They are likely to have seen more people killed in more ways than most battle experienced veterans. It would seem American children have been thrust into the role of young-adult long before their emotional maturation unfolds.
When America's young men came home from the Big War, new social attitudes took hold in lock step with the new possibilities for social advancement. Women had proved themselves, again, and moved up a notch from a position as chattel, even though the ensuing years propelled them once again into the kitchen as care-takers for the provider. The slow climb to equality in the home, business and politics was some years away in theory, and remains elusive even today for many. Any change in American social values came through the ensuing generations acquiescing to the idea of a social progression. It might not be too off the mark to say that the groundwork for the most recent changes derived from the post-war generation, euphemistically referred to as the baby-boomers. Our kids were going to have all the things we never had. This we did with a vengeance.
It would seem my own grandparents, and their grandparents, were in postwork, pre-waiting to die stages. Staying busy with a hobby, or visiting friends was the agenda for the day, if one wasn't too tired or stoved-up from years of hard labor. In today's culture of early retirement and enjoyment of the "Golden Years", the quaint notions of being 'elderly' don't hold up to modern scrutiny. We live longer, are more healthy overall, and generally enjoy a more prosperous lifestyle. Culturally, one of our biggest health problems today is obesity, which is but one of our social indulgences. In this day and age, as grandparents, we are post-children at home, preparing to start some home-business via the computer, hanging out with friends at one of the ubiquitous activity centers, or possibly joining a burgeoning number of full-time road warriors with full service motor homes. That is, enjoying the fruits of social wealth and prosperity.
This migration of retirees as first class road gypsies has become and entire market.
My own mother & her husband have downsized into a mini-van, from the full-service road stallion of a few years ago. For them, spending their money on rental property for their stay has far fewer headaches than travel in a mini-house on wheels. There are the many memories of John submitting to 'the position' of lying on his back, under the thirty-foot carcass of his home on wheels working out the latest development of a clogged water hose, exhaust leaks or errant noises begging for attention.
It is interesting to note the responses one gets from asking our venerable grandparents questions about the state of affairs taking place in America today. Their perceptions of current social practices is something altogether different from our own. We see life through the eyes of expected return, and guarantees. They find this rather amusing, and sometimes annoying. The quality, and measure of personal ethics, is an issue which has evolved from applicable actions, to a definition involving economic standards of success. The measure now being defined in legal or economic formulations. If something is not codified as illegal, it doesn't measure up to being unethical. Another bottom line.
One of the perennial changes within our culture is social dress codes. Even in taking into account the circular and repetitive nature of fashion. For the ancestors, personal fashion as a statement was the domain of social starlets and wealthy eccentrics. It was alright to wear something comfy, just not in public. It lacked taste. Their words. There remains a defining line between what one does in the confines of the home, and a public place. This holds especially true for those who propose to be 'professional.'
My mother's perspective on dress-code attire is that in professional situations, everyone dresses as if they were at home, which then confuses anyone interacting with them. Considering the hospital setting, the nursing staff used to all wear white uniforms, with distinctive hats. Sexist or not, this did provide visitors with immediate knowledge of who was working, and who was visiting. Question: does attire have any affect on working habits and job performance? Communication is bi-directional in any such setting, whether business oriented or not, and staff interface with business representatives and the public. Does business attire influence the interactions' outcome; and in which direction, and to what degree? What affect does attire have on personal attitudes?
My own experiences within various settings have demonstrated to me that most staff members, regardless of their profession, don't normally lose their professional abilities by altering their attire. However, their manners, and hence their interpersonal relationship with the public, do tend to reflect the image they present with their personal dress code. Casual, does not equate to sloppy or unkempt. This is the theory. The ideal. In application, however, a casually dressed professional, with a professional attitude is far superior to a well dressed jerk.
This peek into business attire is not a veiled attempt at proselytizing the Corporate rules of attire, but an example of a national trend of downsized social-expectations for acceptable dress codes in an era of downsized businesses. The former trend seemingly riding on the coattails of the latter. We only need to look at the burgeoning computer industry and the casual attire of the employees respectively, to see that such attire has nothing to do with professionalism, or product efficacy. It has everything to do with attitude, and personal pride. Personal pride is, I feel, one hallmark of the World War II generation. The boundaries for casual attire for this older generation extend further than the preceding one, yet with little experimentation in comparison to current standards.
If we have learned anything from our predecessors, it is that through hard work and sheer determination, we are capable of overcoming the obstacles of social change, with all the ensuing warts that accompany it. Change has been shown to be a part of the normal social-evolution of progress, for without it, little progress would be realized. Yet, we as a culture, like most cultures, abhor the real changes which come about. They seem to be abrasive to all but the youngest in society, who always find new avenues of rebellion to be especially prized. The changers of the ideal, rubbing against, and wrinkling the pressed suit of tradition.
Having acquired my social wings of autonomy in the sixties has left me to viewing my own progression through the rungs of maturity with some amusement. My patch-work quilted hip-hugger, bell bottom jeans have made the rounds through my own offspring. First my son, until they no longer fit, then to my daughter who continues to wear them with relish, knowing of their origins in family history. They, like I, reflect upon their family lineage within the construct of the social schema. How do they, we, hold up to scrutiny of the social eye? Are we more than the sum of our wardrobe tastes and economic status? Would the ancestors approve of who we are as individuals? Pondering a perennial question to a changing landscape of expectations always returns a question to the seeker of such answers.
The landscape of America today was cultivated by the hands of progress. A nation bent on attaining a premier position within a chaotic world surrounding it. We have arrived. We sit astride an industrial stallion who's stride takes us headlong into an unknown future of progress and change. A magnificent beast that resists any attempts at haltering or bridling, by kicking up its heels and dashing across the open planes of possibilities without looking back for any direction. My grandmother, may she rest in peace, would not have recognized much of today's world. It would have presented itself as being hectic, stressful and confusing. I look outside myself and see a nation of change, within a larger world of developing chaos and wavering indecision. My children peer out and see one large high-speed world of possibilities, and potential pitfalls. My mother, well, my mother usually holds her cards close to her chest, but will reveal elements of her hand when correctly prodded. She pretty much remains true to the life lessons she dispensed to her children, which have become the mantra we came to know. If you're going to wear old blue-jeans, there's no reason they should be dirty. Always have on clean underwear just in case you get into an accident. And my favorite. If you have nothing nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all. I follow those rules, with the exception to underwear, and continue to go without. This might be cause for surprise to the emergency medical personnel at the scene of some future accident, but it wouldn't surprise my mother one bit.