The greatest generation? It's sure not us boomers, by John McGauley

The youngest of us baby boomers will be 57 years old next year, the oldest 75.

The year of my birth, 1953, was the high-water mark of that boom, more kids were born then than in any year before or since.

And, our time is passing. I think we know it; we’re drifting off into the land where you’re yelling at the young kids cutting through your backyard, in the proverbial sense.

Were we a good generation?

Well, we weren’t a terrible generation, but we weren’t especially good or notable, either. There were a lot of us, but I don’t think after we’re long gone there will be much of a remembered legacy, our descendants won’t be describing us as courageous. Indulgent, yes, but not brave. Many of us are whiners and complainers. Bratty.

Our parents were called The Greatest Generation, and I suppose they were; but how can anyone know who the “greatest” generation was? I mean, come on, there was a generation that fought in the American Revolution and a generation that fought to preserve the Union. They must have been pretty great, too.

But I doubt there will be any statue on Central Square representing the baby boomers.

Most of us boomers were born throughout the 1950s. Because of amazing medical advances, we had the best care of any generation to that point in the history of the world. That’s why we’re living to advanced ages never before dreamed of. We were vaccinated, well fed and went to good schools. We had Disney lunch pails and our parents had cars to take us to baseball practice and dental appointments.

We were raised in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Our government was stable and there were no world wars. We had the Cold War, but it wasn’t hot. Then there were assassinations and race riots. We had Vietnam, which was hard and vicious and divisive, but it didn’t change our life at home. Our nation prospered at a skyrocketing rate.

Again, let me emphasize this: We were the best cared-for, coddled and wealthiest kids — then teens, then adults — EVER, in the history of humankind. That’s 200,000 years of history!

We are a generation that was born on third base and thought we’d hit a home run, to paraphrase the famous quote from Tommy Lasorda.

Many of us live on the wealth and economy created by our parents. We drive fine cars, live in great houses with marble countertops, and sign up for commodious old folks’ homes like RiverMead and Hillside Village. We demand, and expect, the best in medical care, especially at the end of our lives. We have stock portfolios and estate plans.

And, you have to admit this: we were — and are — a selfish, self-centered lot. We will continue to be until the last one of us is in the ground. We grew up into adults called Yuppies who demanded the best. And we got the best. That’s kind of why the country is $17 trillion in debt. But what the hell, maybe we’ll be lucky to get another “greatest” generation after us that can pay the bills. It won’t be our problem.

Have you talked with young people about what they think about the prospects for their own futures? Many, if not most, of them believe that the Social Security system won’t be around for them, though it will be. They have diminished expectations for themselves. Those who live in large cities, where the property values have skyrocketed, no longer believe that the “white-picket fence” hope of one day owning a home will ever be possible. And who can blame them when a starter house goes for $450,000?

They also don’t think their wages will ever keep up with their bills, and that they won’t be able to save for retirement.

The generations behind us boomers aren’t procreating, either, not even at the rate to replace themselves. Many of them remain single, or if not, childless. Why? Well, some feel it’s just not worth bringing in a new human being into a world fraught with looming environmental catastrophe, racism and income equality. Yet — and again, I have to say this — we all live in the best conditions ever in the history of the world; it’s so damnably ironic that so many predict some weird dystopian future.

Have you not walked into a grocery store and seen the outrageous bounty of what’s available? Have you not visited a patient in a hospital and witnessed the sophistication of the technology arrayed within? We travel on excellent highways in cars that rarely break down, communicate on devices that only a generation ago would have seemed like black magic. We travel the world in hours, not years.

Yet, there’s such a malaise about the future. It’s all bad.

Anyway, this is the world we boomers are leaving behind. Shame on us.

But, if you know history, you realize the future is never a linear progression from the past. Maybe the generation coming to the fore will be great, if not the greatest.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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