Norma Zager reminisces of the Baby Boomer past that was innocent then marking the Kennedy Assassination as the entry portal to the beginnings of a violent America. Perhaps the only thing I disagree with are the few repetitions of “guns, guns, guns”. Too many people think of guns as an evil that has entered American society in relatively recent history. The reality is that guns have been a part of the American persona from Colonial days, the new Articles of Confederation formed shortly after 1776, through the U.S. Constitution going into effect March 4, 1789 after ratification of 11 of 13 States (the last of the remaining two ratified in 1791) and through to the present day when American Liberals are attempting to subvert the Second Amendment. Nonetheless, Norma’s thoughts are spot on that American innocence seemed to experience an erasure.
What Shall I Tell My Grandchildren
By Norma Zager
Sent: 11/25/2013 11:00 PM
Ari Bussel Intro
Fifty years ago, our nation lost its innocence with President Kennedy’s assassination.
As we celebrate my parents’ Golden Jubilee on November 26th, 2013, Norma captured the essence of the decades since 1963 in our newest Postcard: “What Shall I Tell My Grandchildren?”
Pictures bring memories. So does Norma’s latest Postcard. It is dedicated, with love, on this very special occasion to Rachel and Joe Bussel.
[Davis, California, USA, 1960s]
What Shall I Tell My Grandchildren
By Norma Zager
“Second Star to the right and straight on till morning…” Directions to Neverland
The anniversary of President Kennedy’s death forced me into a state of nostalgic self-examination and unanswered questions including one in particular; what shall I teach my grandchildren?
It is indeed a conundrum to have reached a certain age and still be in search of an identity. Or perhaps be overwhelmed by the profusion of identities embraced then discarded throughout one’s lifetime.
At this stage, I am left with the ultimate question plaguing me in my grandmother years; who am I, and did I ever become whom I sought to be?
Can I truly separate the person I am from the incarnations I formerly assumed? Or perhaps I am just a jumble of ideas and beliefs meshed together to form some unrecognizable piece of sculpture? If faced with a mirror that reflects my soul, will I see a Picasso, distorted and oddly irregular yet perfect in its imperfection?
Thinking back over so many years it is apparent a grandparent has a responsibility to impart wisdom. Ah, but can wisdom flow from the mind of someone who has twisted and turned through so many knowledge bases then morphed and reinvented herself more times than Madonna?
I don’t pretend to be unique in this challenge of self-discovery. I believe it is the plight of baby boomers to travel a road fraught with curves and roadblocks. After all, we were set upon a path chosen for us, and we all veered to the side occasionally, some more often than others.
After World War II a new and special hope ran through the fabric of the American dream. Drunk with our own success and filled with youthful exuberance over a meteoric rise to become number one on the chart of nations, our parents saw a future that could be achieved, a path to be followed and a lifestyle to be embraced.
And they did.
With their new beliefs came a great hope for their children. Our lives were planned, contrived and easily clarified.
The system was in place for a new America.
How could one not be filled with optimism after surviving depressions and wars then emerging victorious and powerful?
A new middle class became the foundation for the American dream. Houses were built to reflect this new sense of affluence.
Women embraced their roles as housewife and mother in shiny new kitchens filled with colored appliances and homes filled with modern furniture. Television sets replaced radios and families sat together watching Ed Sullivan, Uncle Miltie or Chet and David deliver the news.
When bad things happened, we had heroes to avert evil. Superman could save the day, Edward R. Murrow fought corruptors of the American system and Betty Crocker fed a nation.
Ah, but could this idealistic state endure?
The rise of the communist threat, predicted by Churchill and ignored by a naïve American president, changed the landscape.
Along with Howdy Doody’s smiling face and our morning Rice Krispies, came the sounds of digging as our neighbors built bomb shelters in their back yards. Our teachers escorted us to school basements to sit with heads covered beneath the pipes. In the end the greater fear we faced were the potentially dangerous effects from the asbestos wrappings.
I munched my morning eggs and toast watching something called segregation being challenged in Little Rock. Questioning why a little girl couldn’t go to school if she wanted without an army to escort her.
I was certain if someone told me I didn’t have to go to school, it wouldn’t require an army to keep me at home watching television.
We little understood the changes swirling around as we played innocently on safe city streets awaiting the Good Humor man or the bakery man to deliver the cakes and breads for the day while clapping for Tinker Bell to prove we believed in fairies.
America was a quiet place, safe and unfettered by crime, hate or vicious political battles.
It was simply a very simple life.
At least for some.
For unbeknownst to those who were lucky enough to be a member of this new American dream, festered an undercurrent of anger like a boil beneath the skin of the nation.
Civil rights marchers in Selma attacked by dogs, yes the world watched, but for us nothing changed, at least not yet.
We lived in a dream world: School, Sunday afternoons watching our fathers cut deliciously scented freshly mowed lawns and listening to the baseball game on the radio.
Hot summers sitting near a fan to capture the swirling warm air, unless you were among the lucky families to afford air conditioning.
Splashing about in a back yard plastic pool while the puppies chased their tails around the fenced-in yard.
Businessmen were making money and reinvesting it in second cars and newer, larger homes.
Charge accounts in department stores afforded teens that rode busses to the mall with friends a day of shopping and lunch. And perhaps even a new Elvis 45 record.
No one thought of the things one must think of today, things that never even existed in America then.
It’s difficult to believe that life was so innocent in the fifties. Fears were predicated on some distant threat of communism a world away.
I remember watching Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on a table at the United Nations screaming “we will bury you,” and I shook my head and thought, “what a nut.”
Then I returned to my idyllic existence, the life that had been created for me and I was expected to live out as planned.
I now realize that life ended on November 22, 1963.
That was the day the guns came out in America and never left.
Life changed dramatically after President Kennedy was killed. It wasn’t just the horrific loss of such a beloved leader; it was that suddenly the entire world appeared so different.
The sense of peace, contentment and security unraveled and what was unseen was suddenly staring us all in the face. Evil stood on our doorsteps. Murder, mayhem, assassinations became an endless stream in our lives.
It was as though the steady floor we once trod had now become an amusement park ride where the bottom is taken away and we are balancing precariously against the sides.
Death became a daily occurrence. Martin, Bobby, Marilyn, newspapers were filled with pictures of murders and riots, the news had changed and so had our perception of our lives.
We were ill prepared for what was to be.
The idyllic and spoiled existence of the baby boomer ended abruptly. Instead of the Mickey Mouse Club and The Lone Ranger, we traded in our mouse ears for protests, Abbie, Gerry, trials, wars and civil unrest. A country so peaceful became a battleground filled with civil discord, crime and guns, yes, that endless stream of guns, guns, guns.
In 1967 cities began burning and my own was one of the first. I watched Detroit burn before my eyes on a television once filled with Sid Caesar and Lassie. Familiar streets I’d walked filled with flames and were lost.
I felt as though I was dragged kicking and screaming away from my own life. Leaving childhood behind is always a mixture of pain, disillusionment and angst. Watching the democratic convention of 1968 as the police heaved protestors from the streets is when I lost my innocence.
With apologies to Albert Einstein’s assessment for how the world will end, the world of our youth ended not with a whimper but with an explosion.
A new path loomed before an entire generation. Innocence gave way to a wakeup call that was heard around the world.
Aside from the usual angst of becoming a teenager and dealing with the issues of growing and maturing into adulthood, Baby Boomers not only faced a life change, but were forced to face their challenges in a new world. One filled with hate, guns, violence, unrest and unpredictability. If such a world had existed before it was not within our sight.
Sexual revolution and feminist movements changed forever the way we would watch a Doris Day movie and created new conflicts of values.
Were we Doris Day or Marilyn Monroe?
Were we the Mouseketeers or GI Joes?
Were women Harriet Nelson or Barbara Jordan?
Mores shifted and we paddled with exhausted arms to keep up with the tide.
Richard Nixon cast suspicion upon a political system we had never questioned. Viet Nam brought new pictures and words into our lives. Mai Kong Deltas and napalm replaced “Yo Rinty” and Captain Kangaroo.
Guys left and never came home and the ones who did were treated as traitors, shamelessly cast aside as though they were criminals for serving their country. It was a far cry from the Life magazine cover depicting the return of World War II soldiers.
Who were we?
What did we believe?
What had I become and was it anyone I really cared to be?
If it seems as though I sat around attempting to answer these questions, I plead guilty.
If I said I had found those answers, I plead ignorant.
There is no pause on the remote control of human existence. No instant replays and no “do overs.”
I do know change is the only certainty of life. What is today will not be that new tomorrow we have no way of knowing.
Every generation lays claim to living in perilous times.
Perhaps it is just easier looking around at today’s world to accept the fact life, at best, is precarious and no time in history is ever without turmoil.
So what shall I tell my grandchildren? It seems they will know little else than this new chaotic and insane world? Will there be some respite in this new harsh life we have created? I cannot blame them if I speak of peaceful summer afternoons or a world without terrorists and school shootings and they look at me as though I were telling a fairy tale.
They will need a new strength and a new worldview we never imagined, and my heart breaks for them. As every grandparent I must pray it will change and they will know innocence and peace, safety and security.
For even as I dream of peace I am faced with a reality show to rival any Bravo offering.
So I will tell them simply, “I love you, and you can do anything and be anyone you choose to be. Don’t squander too much time wondering who you are, just enjoy being you. One person can change the world for better or worse and no one can truly know who that person will be. Never doubt it can be you, and if that is your goal, choose good.”
Ari Bussel and Norma Zager collaborate both in writing and on the air in a point-counter-point discussion of all things Israel-related.
Zager and Bussel are based in Los Angeles. Zager is an award winning investigative journalist, journalism professor and author. Bussel is a foreign correspondent in Israel.
Together, they have dedicated the past decade to promoting Israel.
© Israel Monitor, November 2013
First Published November 26, 2013