Monday, October 18, 2021

Blame The Boomers

The sentiment is not, as Tom Nichols seems to think, new. I've told the story before, of having leather sandals with leather "peace signs" attached to them as a decoration. Turns out that symbol was invented by a British anti-nukes group in the '50's, but in the early '70's there was no Google where we could find that information, and I still remember the mother of some girl (my contemporary) expressing concern to me that my peace symbols were, in fact, Satanic.  Because the rumor was they dated back centuries, and everything old, especially in that Baptist-besotted town, was likely "foreign" (i.e., not American in origin) and evil (if not Papist, then Satanist, which was just as bad).

Don't get me started on the cranks who hated Hallowe'en. They at least had something with a much longer history to complain of, although the practice of going door to door begging candy isn't that much older than the peace sign.  Again, because we are familiar with it, we think it's been that way forever.  Students of history, most of us aren't; especially "social" history.

The reason the American Legion doesn't shut off the streets anymore for kids to parade is not because of religious cranks or that "so many of [us] lost [our] minds," it's because the Boomers passed into adulthood.  The huge demographic bulge in the python of American society was real. I  grew up in a neighborhood populated with kids my age, or near enough for dammit.  I could step outside and play all day long, with no traffic on my residential street (except at 8 and 5), and plenty of kids to play with.  We could have pick up baseball games, football games, kick-the-can, etc.  My daughter is almost 30; she never knew such neighborhoods. The Boom passed her by.

Hallowe'en was when the kids in my neighorhood owned the streets.  The rumors about razor blades in apples and poisoned candy didn't start until 1974 (although a woman who thought the kids coming to her house were too old, so she gave them dog biscuits, ant poison, and steel wool, in 1964, so some stories of such horrors were around when I was young).  We happily accepted caramel apples and popcorn balls; indeed, rumors flew around the streets of where to get them, but they were always several streets away and had "run out" (the rumors said) by the time you heard where to go.  But the best part of Hallowe'en was the freedom to be out with your friends, in costume, on the streets at night, ringing doorbells and getting candy. 

For any number of complex reasons, from the flagging Baby Boom to urban legends about horrors in the apples, those days are gone.  A lot of it has to do with the homogenous neighborhoods of the post-war era, where the adults were all basically of the same generation, and their kids were, too, was a lovely aberration in American history and society; and it's gone, as inevitably it must be.  People came home from that war, settled in neighborhoods as newlyweds and new parents, and then stayed put for 50 or 60 years.  Their kids grew up, moved on, and settled in neighborhoods with lots of other people still there, the neighborhoods not necessarily so new and fresh anymore.  Suburbia now stretches into exurbia, but the suburbs of the '60's are a thing of memory, nothing more.   Things change; traditions move on; customs and practices alter. Trying to blame it on somebody, or wishing it back into existence, is a mug's game.

(And the irony of that hand-written crank is that handing out "free" candy on Hallowe'en is quintessentially American.)

1 comment:

  1. Hey, if I thought I could get them to pay I'd pass it out for money. No one ever went to my house, too far off the road. I'd just as soon not have any come where I'm staying for now.