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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Got Penicillin Shots

It’s cold and flu season once again, and according to the Center for Disease Control this is a particularly bad season for the flu. When boomers got a bad cold or the flu, our parents took us to the family doctor who, after a cursory exam, would administer a penicillin injection. The next day, or certainly within two days, we’d be right as rain and back in school. Around the 1970s and into the ’80s, the use of penicillin — given both orally as a pill or as an injection — started to wane. Penicillin use is far from the norm today.

The Mayo Clinic says penicillin was never the right course of treatment for colds and the flu. The reason is the drug is useful for bacterial infections, but is not effective for viral infections like colds and the flu. This would have been known from the start, so family doctors in the 1950s and ’60s would have had this knowledge. Then the whole antibiotic-resistance evolution enters the picture. Today’s bugs are much more resistant to the antibiotics that were regularly distributed during our boomer years. But what goes on here? Every boomer Mister Boomer knows recalls getting better very quickly when given a penicillin shot in their school years, though most of us hated the experience. Surely it can’t be a placebo effect for an entire generation, can it?

Penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. The use of the drug was vital during World War II to fight infections in the wounded, but mass production proved a daunting task. The great need during the War spurred development and its use in the military became widespread — for a narrow range of bacterial infections — around 1942. After WWII, Australia became the first country to make penicillin available to the general public. The U.S. followed suit in 1945. The drug also was used to treat syphilis and gonorrhea and is credited with widely reducing the spread of STDs in the post-war 1950s.

Yet for boomers, it was a shot in the arm, from a doctor who was usually an older man, who asked your parents if the child before him was allergic to penicillin. Since an injection could cause slight pain and discomfort for a couple of days, Mister Boomer usually offered up his left arm for the intra-muscular injection. Inevitably, that evening, Brother Boomer would find an excuse to somehow bump or hit the “shot arm.” Cries of “Mom, he hit my shot arm,” could be heard from Mister Boomer or his sister. After a drag on her cigarette, his mother would tell the older brother to leave his brother or sister’s “shot arm” alone. Often the next day, it was back to school. Did penicillin do its job?

Mister Boomer has a theory about the disconnect between the effectiveness of penicillin on colds and flu, and what we experienced as near-miracle recovery times with what was thought of as Modern Age treatments. His theory is two-fold; first, penicillin was effective on certain infections such as strep throat, so what was thought to be a cold or flu may have been a different type of bacterial infection altogether that the penicillin could attack. Second, it was an age of paternalism in the medical world. Doctors didn’t tell patients all that much since he — the doctor was almost always male — could be trusted to know more than his patients. There were very few Marcus Welbys out there. Some were downright condescending. Under this portion of Mister B’s theory, these egotistical medical professionals said they were administering penicillin because the general public had heard of and knew about the drug. Old man doc may have had any number of other drugs in his syringe.

Today we are in a world of bacteria that is increasingly resistant to the antibiotics that were common in our boomer years, so the development of new treatments is an ongoing process. In our boomer years, a shot in the arm was an unpleasant experience, but usually did the trick.

Do you remember getting penicillin shots for colds and flu, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Mister Boomer Tips His Hat to Elon Musk & SpaceX

When carmaker and space entrepreneur Elon Musk was born in 1971, the Space Race was long over; the U.S. was declared the underdog victor when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in July of 1969. Interest in manned missions to space peaked around that time, but support for continuing manned space exploration was bolstered by the introduction of the first Space Shuttle in 1976. Appropriately christened “Enterprise,” it was named after the boomer-favorite spaceship on the TV show, Star Trek. For the first time, boomers could see a spaceship that could fly into orbit and land back on Earth, ready for another flight.

Deep budget cuts to the Space Program and a public that no longer stopped whatever they were doing to watch rocket launches — like we did during the 1960s — made it difficult to maintain an ambitious program to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off in January 1986, it became evident that progress from here on out was going to be slow and deliberate.

The International Space Station missions (1998 to present) kept our toes in the water, but many boomers, like Mister Boomer, longed for the thrill of big missions where brave men and women zipped across the universe the way we had seen in the TV shows and movies of our youth. Fast forward to February 6, 2018, when Elon Musk’s SpaceX team launched the Heavy Falcon rocket from the same Cape Canaveral launchpad that had propelled NASA astronauts to the moon, rekindling the hopes and imaginations of the Boomer Generation who sat on the edge of their seats while watching the space launches, from the earliest manned Mercury missions that began in 1961 to landing on the moon, as President Kennedy had challenged, “before the end of the decade.” People had camped out for two days to watch the Heavy Falcon launch along the same highway where boomers and their families had watched the Apollo launches. This SpaceX three-booster system doubles the liftoff capacity of what current rockets can muster, expanding the payload possibilities for future missions.

To, as our sixties lingo would put it, blow our minds even more, the three Heavy Falcon booster rockets were not designed to fall off into the ocean, never to be used again. No, Musk’s company has spent the past decade engineering the booster rockets so that they land safely on Earth and are able to be refueled and used again. The two side boosters did just that, landing back at Cape Canaveral in a synchronized event that looked like something from a Buck Rogers episode. The largest booster, the center rocket, was supposed to land on a drone ship platform in the Atlantic ocean, but missed it by 100 meters. Preliminary reports say the rocket didn’t have enough remaining fuel to execute the landing maneuver.

As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Musk had another surprise for us. The spacecraft that was launched by the Heavy Falcon boosters was intended to head for an orbit around Mars. When the nose cone of the craft opened, it revealed a red convertible Tesla Roadster with a mannequin in a spacesuit behind the wheel. As strains of David Bowie’s Life on Mars emanated from the car’s sound system, the mannequin — dubbed “Starman” by Musk — had his left arm resting on the car window while the right hand “steered” through space. The car’s electronic readout screen posted the message, “Don’t Panic,” and a copy of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was in the glove compartment. The latest reports say that Starman will miss his orbit trajectory for Mars, and is headed toward the Asteroid Belt. Sweet boomer dreams are made of this!

One week after the incredible SpaceX test of the Heavy Falcon rockets comes news that our government is poised to end funding of the International Space Station in 2024. Reports indicate a desire of the current Administration to turn it over to private industry. While boomers like Mister B might question the wisdom of such a decision, one can only hope that if privatization is the future of space exploration, the International Space Station won’t become a floating hotel with a certain president’s name on it, but rather placed in the hands of visionaries like Elon Musk. Think of the possibilities of building interplanetary craft in space instead of engineering bigger rockets to send the immense size and fuel supply that will be necessary for such travel directly from Earth. While you’re at it, Mister Musk, could you please begin the work on a Warp Drive, and oh, if we had a way to beam up to the Station, that would be super! To infinity and beyond!

What did you think of the SpaceX test launch, boomers? Did it remind you of the excitement we felt in the early days of the Space Program?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Space and have Comment (1)

Boomers Remember Things Costing Less Than a Dollar

Mister Boomer’s latest trip to the supermarket to get the ingredients for his delicious homemade chili sent him on a flashback when he found 26 oz. cans of tomato sauce for 48¢ each (with the supermarket bonus card, of course). Mister B, for one, longs for the days when every can and package — and even produce and some meats — were less than a dollar. He was wondering how long it has been since the price of practically every food item in the supermarket crossed the one dollar line.

In the Boomer Years, food items were often less than a half dollar. Prices for cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup averaged 10-15¢ each fifty years ago, in 1968. The cost of a can of tomato soup didn’t reach the dollar mark until the early 1980s. The same is true for Nabisco Oreos — 45¢ for a 16 oz. pkg. — and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes –– 39¢ for an 18 oz. box. At the same time, bread was around 20 to 25¢ per 1 lb. loaf, and a dozen eggs were in the range of 60¢. Ground beef was less than a dollar a pound, and most fruits and vegetables were 20 to 30¢ per pound. However, there was one item that was more than a dollar in 1968: a gallon of milk.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that by 1968, inflation caused food prices to go up about three percent a year. This annual rise remained relatively steady until the end of the 1970s; between March of 1979 and March 1980, there was nearly a 15 percent rise in food prices, which accounts for many more things costing more than a dollar each as 1980 arrived.

Mister Boomer recalls going on shopping excursions with his father — the food buyer-in-chief in the Boomer household. When things were on sale, items were often four or five for a dollar. Since Mister B’s mom and sister liked Campbell’s Tomato Soup, the shopping team hit the jackpot when the soup went on sale, 10 for $1.00. Jell-O was another packaged food that Mister B remembers his father buying on sale at 10 for $1.00. It was a struggle to try to get the most desired flavors like cherry and raspberry since the shelf emptied out quickly, even though Jell-O was an economical dessert before any sales prices kicked in. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was often 4 for $1.00, and Banquet Pot Pies could be purchased at 5 for $1.00. The same was true for cans of Del Monte Corn and Green Beans, Campbell’s Pork & Beans and a host of other packaged, bottled and canned foods that had become staples in Mister B’s household, like many other boomers’ homes.

Supermarket sales such as these were the thing that enabled Mister B’s father to afford the brand name products over the lesser-priced brands. There were still compromises in food purchases, though, such as Banquet Pot Pies. Banquet was a cheaper alternative to Swanson or Morton pot pies, introducing their frozen meat pot pies in supermarkets in 1954. To feed a boomer family of five for one dollar was a welcome change. Mister B heard stories of these other brands having great flavor, and, most notably, more meat and veggies. Mister B would not know about that, since the family had a financial loyalty to Banquet.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mister Boomer’s mother would take the frozen pot pies from the freezer (usually chicken for the family), place them whole in their aluminum pans on baking sheets, pierce the tops of the crusts with a fork or knife and pop them into the oven. Forty-five minutes later, dinner was served. Mister B enjoyed his pot pies for the most part, though he always wanted more peas and chicken than was inevitably inserted. Then there was the matter of the crust. The top was always nice and toasty and crunchy, but the bottom could be anywhere from soft and mushy to outright uncooked. Mister B’s mother blamed the oven. Somewhere down the line, the company folks decided that an economical brand such as Banquet didn’t really need an entirely dough-enclosed pot pie and only the crust top remained. That solved Mister B’s bottom-of-the-pie dough dilemma, but the economical nature of the product was compromised in his view. The family noticed but continued to purchase the product, the prevailing argument being the price.


Fifty years ago, McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac. Hardly a supermarket product, it was, however, sold for 49¢. Little did boomers know how short-lived it would be that a wide variety of products would cost less than one dollar.

What products do you remember at prices less than one dollar, boomers? Did your family stock up on food supplies when there were supermarket sales that would offer four or five for one dollar?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Liked Some Spiritual Messages Mixed in With Their Pop Music

Edwin Hawkins passed away last week at the age of 74. If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you are a boomer who recalls Hawkins’ one hit, Oh Happy Day, from 1969.
He wrote the song as part of an album intended to be sold as a fund-raiser for his church to attend a gospel competition. A local San Francisco radio station began playing the song and it got the attention of listeners. The song was re-released under the group’s new name, the Edwin Hawkins Singers. It sold more than seven million copies and won a Grammy Award for best soul gospel performance. Though it was the group’s only Top 10 hit, they toured, sang gospel and in 1970, backed up Melanie on her hit, Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).

Rock music was always an amalgam of gospel, rhythm & blues and jazz from the start. Many of rock’s earliest stars — including Elvis Presley — got their start singing gospel in their churches. The country had self-identified as predominantly Christian for a few decades before the Boomer Generation. According to a Gallup poll published in 2005, the U.S. Christian population peaked in the mid-50s at around 92 percent. So it should come as no surprise that gospel-tinged tunes found their way into the charts during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Here are a few of the many that got the attention of boomers listening to their transistor radios and 45 RPM records:

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)
Written by Pete Seeger in the 1950s, it was first released on an album by the Limeliters in 1962, then by Seeger himself, then the Byrds had a Number One hit with it in 1965. The lyrics were adapted from the English version of the first eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. No boomer collection of Byrds tunes would be complete without it.

People Get Ready
Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions recorded this tune in 1965. The soul and gospel-tinged song has an overtly Christian religious theme but Mayfield himself said he wrote it as a response to what was happening in the Civil Rights Movement after he attended the March on Washington, heard Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, and the subsequent church bombings in Alabama. Ultimately, it was a song about redemption and triumph over evil. Mister Boomer always enjoyed the melody and Mayfield’s soulful voice.

Sympathy for the Devil
The Rolling Stones released this rock classic in 1968. Mick Jagger sang as the devil in this song about temptation. The lyric content took a back seat to an incredibly danceable beat.

Spirit in the Sky
It was the infectious and memorable fuzz-guitar theme that propelled Norman Greenbaum’s one-hit wonder to the charts for sixteen weeks spanning the two decades between 1969 and ’70. It sold over two million copies. Mister Boomer’s sister bought the 45 RPM, and it is now in Mister Boomer’s collection.

Put Your Hand in the Hand
Written by Gene MacLellan, it was first recorded by Canadian artist Anne Murray for her third album, Honey, Wheat and Laughter in 1970. It became a hit for fellow Canadian band, Ocean, in 1971. A slew of popular recording artists released their version of the song in the years that followed, including Bing Crosby, Joan Baez and Loretta Lynn, to name a few.

Jesus Is Just Alright
The Byrds released the tune in 1969, but most boomers will remember the re-recorded 1975 version by the Doobie Brothers. As with all of the spiritually-themed music of the era, it was the music and not the lyric content that caught the ear of boomers. Catchy tunes climbed the charts, regardless of whether they had any spiritual message.

There were dozens of other songs that mentioned God or the Christian religion in some way, by almost all of the popular recording artists of the day. As the stream of these tunes on the charts started to fade in the late sixties, some say the excesses of “free love” and “turn on, tune in, drop out” culminated with the rock musical Hair in 1968. That counterculture was then countered itself with more religious-themed rock of the 1970s. As art imitates life, it brought us the Broadway musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970 and Godspell in 1972. Anne Murray’s version of the title song Jesus Christ Superstar was on the charts in 1971 and then was followed by covers by several people. I Don’t Know How to Love Him from JC Superstar was also on the charts in 1971 and the Broadway cast performance of Day by Day from Godspell hit Billboard’s #13 in 1972.

The numbers of almost all religious denominations has been steady falling since the end of the Boomer Generation. The number of people in the U.S. identifying as Christian has dropped to around 70 percent as more people are checking the “no religious affiliation” box these days. It is Mister Boomer’s contention that it was always the criteria that kids used on American Bandstand to rate records that indicated which songs made it to the Top 10: is it a catchy tune and can you dance to it? Nonetheless, you’ll find predominantly Christian religious-tinged tunes still hitting the Top 10 from time to time, on the Rock, Rhythm & Blues and Country charts.

Do you own any of the religious-themed records from the fifties, sixties or seventies, boomers? Did you buy them for the music or religious content?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Had Their Mouths Washed Out With Soap

Recent discussions and subsequent condemnations, both nationally and internationally, over the usage, content and phraseology of a profanity spoken by the President of the United States brings to mind the subject of swearing during the formative years of the Boomer Generation.

The use of profanity by POTUS was nothing new to boomers, of course. Practically every president has been quoted slipping a few colorful nouns, adjectives and verbs into a talk among cabinet members or even the Press. Lyndon Johnson in particular was said to have had a salty vocabulary, and, thanks to the release of the Watergate tapes, Richard Nixon became known as the Potty Mouth in Chief. Nonetheless, boomers were brought up to know the appropriate time and place for certain words, and that was never in polite company. When boomers broke that rule, there were consequences. Depending on the severity of the comment, a swat on the butt or (loving) slap across the face might be in order. Mind you, punishment was meted out privately once the offender was home and away from even other family members.

The movie, A Christmas Story, immortalizes the mindset of parents toward their children using foul language. When Ralphie utters an unutterable word, his mother puts soap in his mouth and asks where he heard that word. She calls the mother of the boy named by Ralphie to discuss the situation, and the resulting din over the phone makes it known that the other mother is more than displeased. There is immediate punishment for the child in question. Ralphie is then subjected to alone time in the bathroom to ponder his offense, with a bar of soap lodged between his lips.

The practice of washing a child’s mouth out with soap dates back to the late nineteenth century. It appears to have begun as a punishment doled out by missionaries to children who lied, used profanity or verbally abused an adult. While it was never considered the top or best punishment for the offense, it continues to this day, though in far diminished occurrences.

A completely anecdotal survey of fellow boomers by Mister Boomer verified the veracity of this type of situation. Boomers have told Mister B that their use of any type of profanity within the earshot of parents could result in a range of responses, from a stern talking to, to corporal punishment or spanking, to at least the threat of washing their mouth out with soap. In some cases, the taking of the Lord’s name in vain might result in the most severe punishment, while for others, the F-bomb was the ultimate in offensive utterances.

In Mister Boomer’s household, he and his siblings were proverbial “good kids.” His parents used certain expletives — some rather frequently — but he never heard either parent drop the F-bomb, under any circumstance. Mister Boomer always felt there was a plethora of verbal options from which to choose, so cursing to him was not an art form, but a lack of imaginative vocabulary. Of course, years of parochial schooling probably had something to do with that.

Mister Boomer remembers quite clearly the first time he heard profanity from his older brother, boldly and clearly in front of his parents. The family was watching TV, and President Lyndon Johnson was addressing the nation. At that point, Brother Boomer came home. Entering through the front door, he pointed to the TV as he walked across the room and exclaimed, “What the hell is he talking about now?” His parents straightened up on the couch for a second, and his mother said emphatically, “Hey!” That was it. The incident was over. As it turned out, what the president was talking about was an escalation of the bombing in Vietnam. Seeing as Brother Boomer was a year from registering for the Draft, that may have tempered any reaction; or, they may have felt his infraction was minor and didn’t warrant any histrionics.

While Mister Boomer joins the multitude of humanity in condemning the content of the recent POTUS pronouncement, he views the profanity itself as yet another marker on the road to the breakdown of respect and casualization of our society that has grown since the dawn of the Boomer Era. While every generation is going to define itself by the very nature of the Generation Gap, it might behoove this latest Commander in Chief to take a look at the values that were instilled in boomers. Like the song said,

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me…

Did you ever get your mouth washed out with soap, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Boomers Had Their Mouths Washed Out With Soap

Boomers Grew Along With Weather Forecasting

The rash of weather-related events in recent times — hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, ice and snow storms — have never been better forecast and reported on than they are today. Continuous weather alerts via smartphones and 24-hour weather channels make us more connected to the weather than at any time in history. Boomers are especially positioned to have seen the evolution of that reporting, from the early days of television to today.

Of course, weather reporting did not start with the boomer years. It goes way back before the country was founded, but our Founding Fathers appreciated the advantage that weather reports could give them as merchants, mariners, farmers and military leaders. In particular, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid weather observers, noting temperatures and observations in daily diaries. Jefferson had a thermometer and barometer — one of the only instruments of its kind in the U.S. at the time — at Monticello, and took daily notes of the data.

Once the telegraph allowed for reporting from all parts of the country around 1849, the Smithsonian Institution supplied weather instruments to telegraph offices, which would report back on a daily basis. By 1870, a national weather service was instituted to inform military stations of impending storms, which for the first time gave ordinary citizens information that would affect their lives. In the 1920s, the National Weather Bureau provided daily reports to the fledgling aviation industry.

During WWII, weather reporting was vitally important in many battles, especially the Normandy Invasion. Weather data on winds and tides allowed analysts to correctly interpret how the heavy fog, rain and wind of that day would lift, thereby first giving cover to the approaching invasion fleet, then as the weather improved, a better fighting circumstance for troops. In 1945 there were 900 women working for the Bureau, filling positions that were held by men who had been called to military duty.

The Boomer Generation years of 1946-1964 were extremely important to the advance of weather reporting, especially on TV:
• In 1948, the U.S. Weather Bureau gave the first tornado warnings in Oklahoma; national tornado forecasts began being issued in 1952.
• In 1950, the first 30-day outlook forecasts were released.
• In 1954, the first radar specifically designed for meteorological use was put into service by the U.S. Air Force.
• In 1957-58, the year was named The International Geophysical Year to mark the first time meteorological research data was shared among world scientists.
• In 1958, the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, was launched to observe weather. Data from the satellite is credited for the discovery of the Van Allen Belts, Earth’s magnetic fields.
• In 1963, the first polar-orbiting weather satellite, TIROS III, was launched. It provided, for the first time, continuous images of cloud cover across the globe.
• In 1970, the U.S. Weather Bureau was renamed the National Weather Service

The British were the first to broadcast a televised weather report, with the male meteorologist standing in front of a map on a chalkboard, in 1949. The first U.S. TV weather report broadcast came out of Cincinnati in the late-1940s to early 1950s. In 1952, the FCC opened up competition for local TV station licenses, and stations saw that weather was the one place where they could get attention and distinguish themselves from competitors. By the early 1950s, weather was seen as a chance to insert comic relief into the seriousness of the daily newscasts.

Heading into the mid-boomer years, it was understood that weather forecasting was far from an exact science, so anyone with sufficient charisma and charm was tapped to report the weather. Consequently, weather reports were, depending on the positioning of the local TV station, a serious affair or a comedic interlude. A series of people, from puppeteers and poets to serious meteorologists and newsmen, were given the job at local stations. All sorts of “wacky weathermen” were reporting from local stations coast to coast. Boomers will recall the joking and physical humor of their local weather forecasters while giving the weather report; they became much-loved personalities in their own right.

Carol Reed is credited with being the first TV “weather girl,” reporting for WCBS-TV in New York City from 1952 to 1964. She had no meteorological training, and was not on the wacky side of the equation, but was well liked by TV audiences. In 1957, the American Meteorological Society began issuing the AMS Seal of Approval as a way to get science-based on-air presenters more respect and make weather reporting less of a burlesque show. By the late 1960s, most of the wacky forecasters were replaced by increasing technological abilities onscreen and added scientific data.

Mister Boomer recalls the weather forecasters in his youth. Of course, the Today Show with Dave Garroway was part of the family’s morning ritual. After national news was relayed, local stations could insert their forecasts into the program slot, so mothers knew how to dress their kids for school. What seemed ubiquitous to Mister B in the early days were the chalkboards. It was all men reporting the weather in Mister B’s area, and they would painstakingly draw warm, cold and stationary fronts on national and state maps affixed to the chalkboards, indicate temperatures in the region and forecast the highs and lows for the day as well as a general indication of sun, rain, wind, sleet, snow, heat or cold. One local station had a guy who could turn every forecast into a series of weather-related puns.

Weather forecasting has come a long way, both in format and scientific accuracy, since our boomer years. If recent tracking of impending hurricanes and “snowmaggedons” are any indication, understanding the weather in the near future will be as commonplace as our personal home assistants telling us to put on a sweater as an Alberta Clipper approaches the area.

Do you have fond memories of weather men — and women — from your early boomer years?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Seasons,Technology and have Comments Off on Boomers Grew Along With Weather Forecasting