Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The youngest baby boomer turns 50 this year. The big 5-0. A quinquagenarian. Half a century. Holy colonoscopy!
While today’s kids may think 50-year-olds roamed the earth with dinosaurs, others think they are mere youngsters.
“I see them more as my children,” said Rose Rose of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who turns 68 this year, making her among the oldest boomers. “To lump all baby boomers together is really sort of stretching it. There’s a big difference in baby boomers.”
Those born between 1946 and 1964 are considered the baby boom generation — even though there’s nearly a two-decade span between the youngest and oldest. This leads to folks assuming that boomers have had, or are having, the same life experiences. But social commentator and author Jonathan Pontell says that’s ludicrous, and there’s a lost generation between baby boomers and Gen-Xers.
Several years ago, Pontell coined the term “Generation Jones,” which describes those born between 1954 and 1965. In the ’70s, that age group popularized the slang term “jonesin’” or “jonesing” — craving or yearning. Jonesing, he added, has turned out to be a core personality trait of this new generation because of expectations that have been unfulfilled.
It’s also worth pointing out that members of the Jones generation still feel pretty young. Even if they do qualify for senior discounts.
John Heffernan of Conway, technology director for the Williamsburg schools, turned 55 recently but balked at his first-ever senior discount: $1 off skiing at the Northfield Mountain Environmental and Recreation Center.
“It felt really strange and alien to ask for the discount,” he recounts. “I was hoping the pleasant lady behind the desk would be incredulous that such a young-looking person could be 55, but she just blithely gave me the $1 off. Next time, I think I will pay the extra dollar.” (when he is 65, he says, it will be worth the pain of asking.)
If you’ve never heard of Generation Jones, you likely will soon. Research groups, the media and educators are starting to use the definition. Next year, Random House is publishing Pontell’s book of the same name.
Boomers, as defined by the U.S. Census, were the swell of infants born following World War II. By the end of 1964, 76.4 million baby boomers had been born in the United States.
“The whole premise of basing a generation on the fertility rates of that generation’s parents is absurd,” Pontell, 55, said recently during a phone interview. “There’s no generation before or since the so-called baby boom generation that was ever based on birth rates. Generations stem from formative experiences, not head counts.”
Pontell decided to call the lost generation “Jones” because it represents a large, anonymous group of people. “It could be Smith,” said the Cleveland native, now living in California.
“The second half of the boom had far more births, (causing) Jonesers to face the pipeline often clogged by boomers and then competing with even bigger numbers around us. So each point in the life cycle, whether we were trying to get into college, getting first jobs, first homes, has been a tough ride.”
Pontell believes the Jonesers have a more difficult time financially than the boomers born between 1946 and 1953.
“Boomers in general have had a pretty good ride. And boomers had big expectations that were often realized,” he said. “The boomers were not left jonesing.”
There’s no denying that the youngest boomer is at a different place in life than the eldest.
Rose, who is director of community and public relations at the Haven of Rest in Akron, Ohio, has three grown sons. Her firstborn is 47, just three years younger than “Joneser” Gene Fitch of Hudson, Ohio, who will turn 50 this year. Fitch has two teenage boys; Rose has grandchildren the same age.
Did you watch ‘My Three Sons,’ or ‘Dallas’?
The teen years for the youngest and oldest boomers were also much different. “Ben Hur” and “West Side Story” won Academy Awards in the early ’60s. During that time, “The Andy Griffith Show,” “My Three Sons,” “The Addams Family” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” debuted. And Alfred Hitchcock freaked out teens with “Psycho.”
“I remember the Hula-Hoop contests at the State Road Shopping Center, my dad buying me a transistor radio, and paisley hip huggers,” Rose said, chuckling.
During their teen years, the youngest boomers watched shows like “Three’s Company,” “M.A.S.H” and “Dallas.” The films “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Ordinary People” won Academy Awards. The toy of the year in 1980 was the Rubik’s Cube. And many longed to be a preppy.
“I had ‘The (Official) Preppy Handbook.’ It was kind of like the dummies’ guide to being a preppy,” confessed Fitch, account manager at Cleveland’s Majestic Steel.
But perhaps it was the music that set baby boomers apart from those who came before and since. When the oldest boomers were children, the rock ’n’ roll revolution began. The year that the youngest boomer was born, and the oldest turned 18, the first Beatles album was released in the United States. And while some of the older boomers went to Woodstock, the youngest were left behind.
Pontell recalled older kids in the neighborhood inviting him to tag along to Woodstock.
“I ran home, out of the woods, and announced to my parents the good news over dinner,” he said, chuckling. “Of course they looked at me like I was completely crazy.”
“Woodstock?” his parents asked. “Eat your broccoli and go to bed. You are 11 years old.”
‘Wide-eyed, not tie-dyed’
As for sports, in 1964, the year that the youngest boomers entered the world, the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Colts 27-0 to win the NFL championship for the fourth and final time, at least so far.
The Vietnam War is a significant event in the middle and older boomer’s lives. Although people like Rose personally knew peers who were drafted, the youngest didn’t have pals who served there.
“I remember that we had the television news on every night and watched the casualty and killed count,” Fitch said. “To me, it seemed like we were always at war.”
But an incident involving his godfather, who was home on leave from Vietnam, showed him firsthand the effect war can have on a human.
“When I was very young, my sister and I were on a swim team. He came to watch us. He was socializing and enjoying himself while my parents introduced him to friends. That’s when a starter pistol, used to begin a race, went off. He hit the ground and rolled.
“That’s always stuck with me, though I really didn’t understand why he did it,” Fitch said. “I knew he was in the jungle and because I was so young, I just wanted to know if he ever saw monkeys and other animals.”
When older boomers came home from Vietnam, they didn’t get a hero’s welcome. Instead, they were often ridiculed and called names. Because of that, those same boomers are making certain that the men and women returning home from the military today are treated with reverence.
As for the famous hippie vibe associated with the 1960s, Pontell says while the youngest members of the generation were too young to participate, they still felt its effects.
“We were impacted (by the ’60s), but we weren’t a part of it,” Pontell said of the Jonesers. “While some of the (older) boomers still refer to themselves as ‘children of the ’60s,’ really they were well into their teens and 20s. They were out changing the world and we were the ones being formed by those changes.”
Things like peace, love and a wish to change the world intensified the natural open-hearted, loving, idealistic feelings that kids have by virtue of just being kids, Pontell said.
“I think there was something kind of special about being a child of the ’60s,” he said. “We were wide-eyed, not tie-dyed. We were witnesses, not participants.”