I was born at the beginning of the “Baby Boomer” generation in 1946. Almost exactly nine months following World War II, “the cry of the baby was heard across the land,” as historian Landon Jones later described the trend.
More babies were born in 1946 than ever before: 3.4 million, 20% more than in 1945. This was the beginning of the so-called “baby boom.” In 1947, another 3.8 million babies were born; 3.9 million more in 1952, and more than 4 million were born every year from 1954 to 1964, when the boom finally tapered off.
By then, there were 76.4 million baby boomers in the U.S., making up nearly 40% of the nation’s population.
In the west, baby boomers comprised the first generation to grow up with television, shows like the popular Howdy Doody, The Mickey Mouse Club, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Happy Days.
We baby boomers found that our music, most notably Rock ‘n Roll, was another expression of our generational identity. Our transistor radios allowed us to listen to the Beatles and the sounds of Motown.
Some of the most popular boomers born in 1946 are well-known, names like Laura and George Bush, Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Cher, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sylvester Stallone.
We grew up without computers, mobile phones, and a lot of other modern conveniences known today.
Back in 1946, you could purchase a home for $12,500. A postage stamp was three cents, the minimum wage was 40 cents an hour, eggs were 46 cents a dozen, a movie ticket was 55 cents, a gallon of gas was 15 cents, the average cost of a new car was $1,200, and the average income was $2,500. You could even purchase a seven room lakefront property with hardwood floors on a three-acre lake in New York for $7,500.
While today’s 70-year-old is nothing like the 70-year-olds of my parent’s generation, there is no mistaking the fact that, by any measure, turning 70 marks the beginning of a whole new territory in life, one we used to refer to as “old age.”
Funny though, except for those rare occasions when I’ve completely overdone it on the physical plane, I rarely feel old.
Does turning 70 mean that it’s time to give up on living? Does it mean losing interest in the things that have heretofore been the source of passion and aliveness? Does it mean that we’re swept into the corner, left to gather mold and dust until we finally fade away? What exactly is this aging business all about anyway?
I can tell you this, as I am quickly approaching my 70th year, like everything else in life, getting older is exactly what we tell ourselves it is, no more and no less. If we buy into the cultural stereotype of aging, then it probably means all of the above and we will march right to the rocking chair of life, and promptly fall asleep.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
I believe we can age gracefully, not fighting or denying the fact, and take a brief turn in the rocking chair, put our feet up and take a little time out. At 70, one has earned regular time outs.
But that doesn’t mean setting up camp there and falling asleep. The rocking chair is a well-deserved respite, but for it to do what it was designed to do, it must be kept in motion. And so must we.
Staying in motion means more than just remaining physically active, although doing so is critical for us elders. Getting older also means learning to appreciate this stage of life as a new adventure. There is still much to be discovered. This time of life offers up a whole new possibility for learning and engaging in creative expression.
I am not alone in this adventure of turning 70. I have found many friends, and many of them living right here in our beautiful mountains, who are also celebrating that milestone birthday this year - about 20 of us born between July and December 1946.
We’re all going to celebrate by going to Fresno this month to see My Fair Lady at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.
There’s definitely something to be said about growing older. Let’s enjoy it. And happy birthday.