Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 1 - a generation neither here nor there

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Looking Back: 1 - a generation neither here nor there

As Charles Dickens said of David Copperfield—and perhaps himself as well: I am born.

Aren't we all!

Mom and Dad
I wasn't born a Baby Boomer. I must have been born a vagabond. In those days we were just born into an unlabeled generation. The “neither here nor there generation” you could say. I arrived on the planet on the cusp of the Great Depression and World War II—December, 1941. It seems, in retrospect, that I was born into a world entering an era of perpetual war, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, sometimes in conscious thought, sometimes buried in the unconscious disturbing only occasional dreams, but always there as a kind of painted backdrop to a stage set.

me - 8-years old
I don't remember much of my earliest years (nothing actually) and only know what I've been told. I lived in a bilingual home (English and French) because we lived with my recently widowed grandmother until I was about 4- or 5-years old. Grandma was an immigrant from Montreal in Quebec Province, Canada who spoke no English. She was a widow because my grandfather died from a head injury incurred when he hit his head on a low tree branch while riding in an open trolley. When my grandmother remarried she sold the house and moved out. We moved into a cold water, unheated (that was normal in those days) 2-bedroom tenement in another part of town and I entered the first grade at the local parish school. My younger brother was born in the same year, 1946.    

Elvis Presley in the 50s
We came up in the era of Rock 'n Roll--Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley idolized by millions of swooning hysterical fans. There were Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver and American Bandstand on that marvel of marvels, the TV. I was around 12-years old when we got our first one. Before that, I remember listening to programs like The Shadow and Fibber McGee on the radio in the kitchen. The 1950s were a kind of age of innocence, or maybe it just seemed that way because we were still young and relatively innocent to the world outside our small industrial city. It was the time of my first high school (unrequited) crush, "duck's ass" haircuts, record hops, bowling night, wet dreams, pegged pants and white buck shoes. Some of the lucky ones had cars, but not me. We swam on weekends at my uncle's “camp” on a lake and ice skated on the frozen pond just down the street in the winter.

James Dean in
Rebel Without a Cause
The seemingly placid surface of the 50s began to show a few ripples, troublingly and darkly, in Rebel Without a Cause at the movies. James Dean epitomized the angst of growing up with pablum for breakfast in a sunny TV kitchen (the real “morning in America”?) and the aimlessness and confusion over what to do with a life seemingly without challenges (other than seeking thrills in driving cars over a cliff in the flicks). And then, when I was 16, Brigitte Bardot breathtakingly appeared in shocking semi-nudity in the then notorious (now, what was all the fuss about?) French film (et dieu crea la femme) And God Created Woman. There were two movie theaters practically next door to each other on Main Street in our town. One was showing And God Created Woman, the other was showing Walt Disney's Bambi. My cousin and I told our parents that we were going to see Bambi and, of course, went into the other theater instead.

Brigitte Bardot in et dieu crea la femme
Around this time my parents were building their dream home. My father, who died in 1986, was a carpenter. In high school I was interested in drawing and took a mechanical drawing class as an elective for three years. Part of the class involved drawing blueprints and with Dad's guidance we designed the “dream house”. We worked together building it on weekends when my father became very ill with bleeding ulcers. To help supplement the family income and while still in high school I went to work part time at my uncle's small furniture making factory doing a bit of everything that didn't have to do with dangerous machinery, but mostly in the shipping department. And so, the 50s played out not altogether as carefree as they had seemed earlier in the decade.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

Love, Love, Love this!!! So nice to read the early history of you. I never knew your Dad was a carpenter or that you worked in my grandfather's factory (I'm making an assumption here that you didn't have another uncle with a factory). And was the lake that you referred to the one I live on? So cool. I can't wait for the next chapter! - Michelle

Noilly Prattle said...

Yeah, I thought YOU might get a kick out of this retrospective. I'm hoping to put it in the context of the dynamics of the really fascinating, in so many ways, 20th Century, the "interesting times" of the ironic Chinese curse that it has been my good luck to live through and sometimes participate in on the front lines of the "empire" and, of course, my own inclinations. I don't know where I'm going with it yet--probably just let it evolve as a steam of consciousness but, hopefully, with some economy and control. We shall see, what we shall see. The first step in a journey is the most difficult one to take. Then, if you're lucky, the journey takes you along...