Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Went Fourth and Grilled

Another Fourth of July weekend is upon us, and Mister Boomer is reminded that outdoor grilling was massively popular during his early boomer days. As it turns out, the parents of the Boomer Generation were instrumental in the development and promotion of outdoor grilling as we know it today.

Most people use the terms “barbecuing” and “grilling” interchangeably but there is, and always has been, a distinction between the two. This is important to note because as we explore the founding days of our country, “barbecuing” was a popular activity for political campaigns, especially around the Fourth of July. George Washington is said to have loved them, not only for the food but for the chance to meet and greet. Washington, however, did not use the opportunity as the chance to give a speech — he wanted the food and camaraderie to work the room for him. A traditional barbecue cookout for the Founding Fathers was the slow roasting of whole pigs or hogs over an open flame. The affair lasted all day and into the night, and the food was paired with copious amounts of beer and hard liquor. Therein lies the difference between barbecuing and grilling: a barbecue method was a slow roast over lower temperatures, while grilling tends to be quicker and over hot flames.

Outdoor roasting and grilling, of course, did not start in the U.S. In fact, the practice goes back as far as the harnessing of fire itself. Yet its use and popularity skyrocketed in the U.S. after the second World War. One influence the War had on newly-minted Boomer parents was that some servicemen, on returning home, brought Japanese ceramic kamado cookers back with them. These traditional cooking devices smoked or grilled meats, fish or vegetables to the delight of American servicemen. However, the thing most associated with the advancement of the backyard cookout during the boomer years was the move to the suburbs. Houses with backyards provided all the space needed for successful outings with family and friends. The social element that our Founding Fathers found so appealing was felt in boomer neighborhoods from coast to coast. A backyard brazier — a flat device with a bed for fuel and a metal grill over it — was as important a fixture as the car in the driveway. And, in Mister Boomer’s experience, the tradition of combining the cookout with large quantities of adult beverages was one his parents and neighbors felt obliged to keep.

Charcoal and wood were the fuel of choice after the War. The charcoal briquette had been patented by one Ellsworth Zwoyer in 1897, but Henry Ford is often erroneously given the credit. Ford got into the briquette business when he founded the Kingsford Charcoal Company in 1921 as a way to monetize the wood scraps and used sawdust that covered his factory floors. By the early 1950s, Kingsford increased production of charcoal briquettes by 35 percent to meet the increased demand. The company did not advertise for fear that they would not be able to make enough to meet the needs of the marketplace.

In a “which came first” debate, several technological advances in cookery either spurred the dawn of suburban boomer cookouts, or at the very least increased its popularity. For most American suburbanites, outdoor cooking was done on a brazier grill. Having no vents to control the flames, it was known for uneven heat that tended to char food quickly and spew ashes over the cook and guests, especially when a prevailing breeze visited the backyard event. That began to change in 1952, when a man named George Stephen, a welder for the Weber Brothers Metal Spinning Company, cut a metal buoy in half and created a new kind of grill. The top half was used as a lid. In both the lid and base, Stephen fashioned controllable vents. For the first time, cooking temperature was not an either/or situation. The grill quickly spread across the nation, though Mister Boomer’s father didn’t buy his first Weber grill until the early 1970s.

Experimentation in gas grills also continued through the ’50s. The first practical propane gas grills had been introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair. However, gas grilling remained the exclusive domain of commercial cooking until the 1950s. By the mid-fifties, home models were introduced by a variety of companies. The adoption of the gas grill was slow at first due to the price of the early models — they could be priced from $50 to more than $100 — which was approximately double that of a week’s pay for the average American. Ease of use eventually won out and by the late 1970s, the gas grill supplanted charcoal grills as the most popular in the backyards of boomer parents, at the same time that the first boomers were establishing families of their own.

As for the legacy of the Japanese kamado grill, fast forward to 1974 when a Navy vet named Ed Fisher opened the Big Green Egg Company. Ed’s combination grill and smoker was based on traditional Japanese designs. Thirty years after the War, its influence was still being felt in boomer backyards. The company continues operations today, gaining a following in barbecue purist circles. In fact, most if not all of the brands that were household names to boomers are still around, including Kingsford, Lodge, Charmglow, Weber, and others.

Mister Boomer thoroughly enjoyed his neighborhood’s backyard cookouts. However, he was never enamored with the common kid fare of hot dogs and hamburgers, much preferring ribs and chicken, and the occasional steak on the grill. He especially liked grilled corn on the cob. For years, even though his father was grilling, his mother had a pot on the stove in the kitchen boiling corn for the meal. Finally, around the mid-60s, his father and brother convinced his mother that corn could be great on the grill. Then began the endless debates over whether the corn would go directly on the grill, husk and all, soaked beforehand or not, or grill the ears sans husks. One way steamed the corn instead of grilling, while the other dried it out and could make it tough. A happy medium was never reached, but Mister B ate it all, along with baked potatoes. Since the grown-ups were busy downing their adult beverages, it also gave the kids an opportunity to drink cold cans of soda pop all day long — a real treat that did not happen often.

By the time sun was going down, the remaining bits of charcoal glowed a beautiful orange-red in the twilight, beckoning boomer kids to roast marshmallows. Then, sparklers were in order as kids pranced around creating light trails of various shapes. Older kids might have some fireworks, and sometimes an adult — often still gripping a long-neck bottle of beer — held out a Roman Candle to shoot colorful sparks into the sky.

What memories of backyard Fourth of July cookouts do you have, boomers?

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

Of Course Boomers Had Driveways!

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was underway and the country was shifting from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing. Populations shifted from farms to cities and as immigrants came in, these cities grew. Housing was quickly built to accommodate the influx of workers that would signal the nation’s progress up until the Great Depression. Since the automobile was a new invention, it was purchased by upper class citizens who could afford it, so working class people in working class houses had no need for driveways. In fact, only about a third of city dwellers owned their own homes at that time. Many boomers — especially early boomers — will recall living in this type of urban housing.

Henry Ford tried to change all that by producing a car he felt everyone could afford. To make sure his workers could afford it themselves, he instituted a $5 a day wage that was unheard of at the time. Of course, that wage was not granted equally among his employees, but that is a matter for another time. The spread of the Model T into the 1920s initiated the first working class houses built in cities, with personal driveways attached.

The wealthy always had driveways, though not in the sense that boomers might recall. For centuries, the driveway up to the manor was an important path, intended to impress and reveal the occupants’ status, education and wealth. The end of the driveway was usually a circle from which visitors and owners could be dropped off at the front door. The carriage and horse were then stowed in the stables away from the main house.

Driveways in rural communities were most often dirt or gravel, and were more for moving farm equipment than the family car — which was most often a pickup truck, as soon as they became available in the 1920s. Barns and sheds housed the equipment necessary for the main job, so any auto or truck was going to reside outside on or near the driveway.

The rise of the driveway slowly continued as new housing was built before World War II; a new status symbol for a generation that grew up riding streetcars and city buses, a driveway indicated a certain level of modernity and upward mobility in a rising middle class. It was in this era where the driveway was treated as part of the house’s landscape; instead of a concrete slab, it was composed of two strips separated at a wide enough distance for a car’s wheels to tread, with a grass median between the concrete.

It was after the War that the driveway really came into its own. Returning soldiers got married and started families, which signaled the dawn of the Boomer Generation. Housing was an immediate concern, but cities were crowded, with little or no land for these new families. New suburbs were the answer, where land was readily available and inexpensive, or at least affordable with GI veteran assistance programs. Since a worker’s commute was now a serious concern, the fathers of boomers making the move to the suburbs had to own a car. Virtually all of the houses built in the late 1940s and into the ’50s featured a place for the family car, as a “standard feature.” Some driveways led to a garage behind the house, but most stopped at the back end of the house. In just two generations, the evolution of the driveway had come from a centuries-old symbol of “to the manor born” to one of middle class, utilitarian car-parking slab.

A typical car parked in a Midwest driveway, circa 1950s

At this point, the vast majority of families owned one car. For boomers growing up in these houses, the driveway was empty all day since their fathers took the car to work, so it became a boomer play space. Girls might draw hopscotch games in chalk on the family driveway, while boys were rolling homemade go-karts up and down. Many boomers (including Mister Boomer) recall flipping hula hoops up and down the driveway, or roller skating — with metal skates — back and forth.

Driveways became personal and an integral part of the house, as was the family car parked on it. In the early days in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, less than a third of homes had garages, where a driveway extended to the garage positioned in the yard behind the house. As the 1960s pushed on, several of his neighbors had single-car garages built, all the more to leave the driveway empty. That space was soon needed as boomers grew and got cars of their own. For Mister Boomer in his mid-boomer era, it was practically a rite of passage to acquire a car shortly after getting a drivers’ license. Driveways would have to serve for parking at least two cars; at one point in Mister Boomers’ house, there were three cars for household members, two of which resided in the driveway. With no garage, it was a constant shuffle to move vehicles so that one or the other could exit.

While we often consider certain television programs, toys, fashions or music as defining symbols of the Boomer Generation, Mister Boomer humbly submits that the driveway was an important part of the culture that molded our generation.

What memories do you have of your families’ driveways, boomers?

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

Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now

In the age before the shopping mall, drug stores were locally owned and served as general stores for a variety of family needs. See if you recall your family in these Mister Boomer experiences:

Then: Your doctor wrote a prescription on paper and you brought it to your neighborhood pharmacist. Mister B does recall some instances when the doctor phoned the pharmacy when his mother was ill, then he would ride his bike to the drug store and pick up her prescription. His father could always pay for it later. It was a time before the proliferation of credit cards, so, like a lot of stores, the drug store maintained a book of what people owed if they couldn’t pay at that moment.

Now: Prescriptions are still filled at neighborhood pharmacies — but chances are, these days the store is part of a national chain. Pharmacists are still licensed and can give advice on medications, the same as in early days. When we were young, though, the pharmacist probably knew the names of everyone in the family. Home centers, warehouse stores and super stores also have internal pharmacies. For ongoing prescriptions, savings can be gained by ordering in bulk from online pharmacies that ship the prescriptions directly to your home.

Then and Now: When we were young, a man had to ask the pharmacist for condoms since they were kept behind the prescription counter. It was an Urban Rite of Passage for every boy over the age of 16 to carry a condom “at the ready” in his wallet. Many a boomer boy will tell of the embarrassment they felt asking the pharmacist, especially when the man knew his family. Some rebels who had a devil-may-care attitude toward the exchange would dole out extras to his neighborhood chums or school pals, which is how most boomer boys got their wallet condom. It didn’t matter that 99 percent of them would never be used for their intended purpose.
Today, condoms are openly displayed and readily accessible in drug stores, and the variety has expanded well beyond what was hidden under the counter fifty years ago.

Also, most drug stores have expanded their services to include wellness clinic, and flu shots administered by trained medical practitioners.

Then: Mister Boomer recalls many times when the family was heading out the door to a wedding when his mother asked his father, “Did you buy a card?” Inevitably, his answer was, “No.” Mister B’s dad would drive over to the drug store. While the family stayed in the car, he’d run in for a card. The store’s cards were kept just inside the parking lot entry. Two minutes later he would return with a wedding card. The drug store had all the cards the family would need in the course of a year, from birthdays to Valentine’s Day; weddings to anniversaries; get well to sympathies.

Now: Most drug stores maintain a card area, though the stock has changed due to Internet competition. Less cards are being purchased, so much of the inventory is devoted to cards that play music, specialty shapes and papers — in other words, cards for which they can charge a premium.

Photo Processing
Then: Many boomers recall going to the drug store with their parents to drop off film for developing. A week to ten days later, you could return and get your prints and the negatives.

Now: Some drug stores have eliminated their photo processing departments, while others have greatly reduced the visibility of the services. Prints can still be ordered from some drug store/pharmacies, but now in many cases they can be ordered online and picked up in any location across the country.

Then: In an age before large discount stores and malls, the local drug store was the closest thing to a general store in most neighborhoods. A family could pick up everyday necessities, such as toilet paper and toothpaste, but also seasonal needs like spring picnic supplies, summer beach necessities and winter snow and ice needs. For Mister Boomer, his drug store was his number one connection for car, boat and plane model kits and the Testor’s paints and glue he needed to complete the projects. All of Mister B’s monster models — Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman and Phantom of the Opera — came from his drug store. So did his model of PT 109, the patrol boat Lt. John F. Kennedy captained in World War II.

Now: You can still get a wide variety of items at drug stores, from needles and threads to car accessories, seasonal needs to snacks and cold drinks. It’s been a while since Mister Boomer has noticed model car and plane kits at his area drug stores, but he likes to think there are still drug stores out there that stock them for the youngsters interested in building the kits.

TV Tube Testing
Then: In an age when every father was expected to fix things around the house, TV tube replacement was among the easiest since it was tantamount to replacing a light bulb. Mister Boomer remembers his father opening the back of their black & white TV and pulling one to three tubes of varying sizes. A quick trip the drug store was all that was needed to test the tubes and buy replacements. Mister Boomer remembers the drug store’s test station that sat near the center of the store. The angled wooden top had a series of multiple-hole slots, each numbered to match a specific tube. By plugging the tube into the appropriate slot and flipping the on switch, a customer could test to see if his TV tube was still good. Replacements were found in drawers below the top.

Now: TVs with vacuum tubes were still being manufactured in the early 1990s, but have now disappeared as electronic inventions have replaced the need for them. Consequently, drug stores no longer have a need for TV tube test stations.

Soda Fountain
Then: Perhaps the quintessential defining area of every drug store in the boomer era (and the generation before) was a soda fountain. Soda jerks were the uniformed workers — men and women — who manned the counter. They served up ice cream sodas, sundaes, banana splits and in some cases, hot dogs and sandwiches. It was the ice cream that Mister Boomer remembers. His father promised him a banana split after he had his tonsils removed when he was six years old. It was the first one he had ever eaten, and it was at the neighborhood drug store’s soda fountain. It was a thing of beauty, with half slices of banana slipped on the sides of a long glass dish. Then scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream were layered in, and covered with whipped cream. Hot fudge was drizzled on top of the whipped cream, followed by crushed walnuts. A cherry, centered over the middle scoop of ice cream, completed the masterpiece. Sometimes Mister B’s father would get him and his siblings a sundae while waiting for a prescription to be filled.

Now: Unless the drug store is a themed nostalgia establishment, the vast majority have eliminated the soda fountain.

A trip to the drug store could be a mundane affair, but as Mister Boomer recalls, it could also be an event. A child could experience the joy ice cream can bring, or take home a kite, model or toy while his parents acquired their needs.

What did your drug store mean to you, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comments Off on Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now

The Christmas Lights Doorway Electrocution Incident

One year after Mister Boomer’s father had switched the Christmas tree bulbs from the large, teardrop-shaped glass bulbs to white mini-lights, he found them so satisfactory that he bought more, this time in multi-color strands. The Boomer brothers saw the extra strand of white mini-lights from the previous year and decided they needed to further decorate the home.

Brother Boomer laid out the strand and plugged it in to see if all the tiny white lights were still in working order, the way he had seen his father do it numerous Christmases before. When all the lights were securely in their sockets and lit, the boys looked around for where they could hang them. They chose the doorway arch that led down the hall to the house’s one bathroom and three bedrooms. The problem was, there was no way to secure the lights to the plaster wall. Mister Boomer grabbed the roll of generic transparent tape from the junk drawer. He and Brother Boomer set the strand of lights down, starting at the nearest electrical outlet, and taped the green plastic wires to the inside of the arched doorway with cellophane “Xs” every few bulbs. Even before the boys had finished, some tape was failing its duties. More tape was employed to buttress the gaps. Scotch tape brand would probably have had better adhesion capabilities, but the family wasn’t into buying more expensive brands unless there was a big sale. Three-quarters of a tape roll later, Brother Boomer plugged the lights in and the hall entryway became holiday-ready.

Wanting more pizzazz, Brother Boomer told Mister B to retrieve the clear glass flasher bulb from the tiny bag that came with the lights. In Mister Boomer’s household, all the elements were kept in the original packaging as long as possible. After reading the instructions, Brother Boomer dutifully removed the first bulb closest to the plug and replaced it with the flasher bulb. Now, when the lights were plugged in they flashed on and off every few seconds. Mister Boomer and his brother and sister admired their handiwork by turning the living room lamps off.

When Brother Boomer grew tired of staring at the flashing bulbs, he walked over to the entryway and, waiting for the lights to toggle off, leapt through the doorway before the lights could turn back on. Mister B followed his lead and made the leap. The boys motioned for their sister to join them, but Brother Boomer made the game more interesting by telling their 5-year old sibling that she had to time it right, because if she didn’t make it through before the lights went on, she would be electrocuted. She started sobbing and refused to try as the Boomer brothers laughed in the hallway. Brother Boomer tried to show her it was “safe” by making the leap through back and forth as the lights toggled off, but she was not convinced. He crossed over, grabbed her by the arm and tried to push her through, but Sister Boomer would have none of it, digging her heels into the carpet and screaming. Since Mister B’s parents were out Christmas shopping, pre-teen Brother Boomer was in charge, so her screams were to no avail. Finally, he dropped her arm and leapt back through the lights. This time he pretended to barely make it through and acted like the bulbs singed his hand.

Mister Boomer joined in his fun. The boys, laughing in the hallway the other side of the light field, tried to toss each other through the “killer” lights. When Brother Boomer pushed Mister B into the doorway, he was caught directly in the “beams.” He convulsed like the electrocuted characters he had seen in cartoons and collapsed on the living room floor. “You zapped him!” Sister Boomer said as a motionless Mister B suppressed a giggle. Brother Boomer leapt through and unplugged the lights. He tried to console his little sister and told her, “Don’t tell mom and dad. He’ll be OK in a few minutes. He was just stunned.” Sister Boomer ran over to the doorway and tried to pull the lights down. The cheap tape was already not holding, and half the strand was dangling loose. She stopped when Mister Boomer got back up on his feet, exclaiming, “Whoa, what happened?” Then the boys told Sister Boomer again that the lights were not electrocuting anyone and it was a game. She didn’t believe them. Mister B retaped the lights as best he could with the remaining tape.

When Mister B’s parents returned, the Boomer children were watching TV and the lights flickered on and off in the doorway. “What did you do?” shouted Mister B’s mom, pointing at the lights. “I don;t want you playing around electrical outlets!” “Leave them alone, it’s fine,” chimed in Mister B’s father. Sister Boomer shot the boys a dirty look, but she didn’t tell her parents what had transpired. But for the rest of the night, if the lights were lit, she would not step into the hallway. One of the boys had to unplug them first.

By morning most of the strand was on the floor. The tape wasn’t going to hold, so the boys gave up and took them down. Fifty-plus years later, Mister Boomer’s sister still tells this story of how her brothers had taunted her and tried to electrocute her with Christmas lights. While Brother Boomer still laughs, Mister Boomer is a little more apologetic, but explains to his sister that even back then he could not believe she was so gullible.

Did you and your siblings ever join in any reindeer games of your own, at the expense of your younger sibling, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History,Technology and have Comments Off on The Christmas Lights Doorway Electrocution Incident

Boomers Shoveled Snow, and Then Shoveled Some More

It snowed again this past week. After years of fewer flakes, this year has been a snowy one for a good portion of the country, even in areas that rarely see the stuff. This past week Mister Boomer’s area added ten more inches to the season total. Growing up in the Industrial Midwest, Mister Boomer flashes back to those winters and the snow that was practically a guarantee. Yes, there would be snow, and it was on the ground from December through March, and sometimes into April. Snow didn’t often accumulate in great amounts at a time, but rather, it snowed often. Adding one to four inches several times a week allowed it to build up very quickly. Once it covered the grass, usually by the first week of December, you wouldn’t see the ground again until spring.

All that snow meant a lot of snow shoveling. It was understood that kids, from the age of seven or eight on, would at least help if not take the chore on entirely. After all, what were kids for? Our boomer parents saw to it that their kids carried their share of work inside and outside the house. For the most part, kids didn’t mind. As soon as the snow stopped, neighborhood kids would be outside with the family snow shovel, clearing sidewalks and driveways. It was understood that there would be no snowball fights, snowman making or sledding until the walkways were cleared.

Since most houses contained multiple children, the job was not too daunting a task for small suburban bungalows, unless there was a major snowfall. As a general rule, it was the boys who handled snow removal. A few households had only girls, so their shoveling skills would be pressed into service at those addresses. It was a rare occurrence to see the mother of the household out shoveling snow. Fathers might be out there if they weren’t at work.

Snow shovels of the era were made of metal and wood. In the early days Mister B remembers the family shovel had substantial weight to it. The shaft was a rounded pole of solid hardwood, attached to a rigid metal scoop. The edges of the scoop were perpetually curled where Mister B and Brother Boomer would hack away at the icy patches. Mister B disliked that shovel not only for its weight, but for the splinters and calluses it would dole out, even through two pairs of gloves. Lighter-weight aluminum models were making inroads into the neighborhood, but the family’s second shovel was an old coal shovel. This tool was fantastic for snow removal, with its large-capacity scoop and shaped handle. It was solid enough to chip ice, too. Mister B preferred this shovel, letting Brother Boomer handle the other.

For several kids in the neighborhood, the parental mandate was once the home shoveling was finished, the houses of the senior citizens on the block were next. Often groups of three or four kids would walk over and shovel the seniors’ driveways and sidewalks without saying a word or expecting a reward; it was part of being a good neighbor. More people should practice this simple rule today.

When the shoveling had ceased, it was time to warm up before heading back outside. While sometimes that entailed playing in the snow, there were other times when a group of neighborhood kids would get together to shovel more snow — this time for profit. With long johns on, layers of shirts and a sweater under a coat wrapped by a scarf and hat and dry gloves, the kids would march down the block slinging the family snow shovel over a shoulder like hobos heading for the nearest railroad track.

Since most neighbors knew each other, the houses that might need the service were pre-selected. There weren’t many left on Mister B’s block, so a walk to adjoining blocks was necessary. One boy would approach the owner by knocking at the door and asking if they would like their snow shoveled. The vast majority of the time there was no talk of payment. Once the shoveling was finished, the same boy would return to the door to announce the job was done. At that time the homeowner would hand over some money, from fifty cents to a dollar. The boy, practicing his politeness training, would thank the homeowner and the group was off to the next site.

A group of four or more might stay out until twilight approached, which was around 4:30. A day’s pay might be two or three dollars each. In retrospect, it amazes Mister B on so many levels:
• That kids had the stamina to do the physical work. Shoveling snow all day is rigorous exercise, yet kids did it for fun and profit. It was that same stamina that enabled the neighborhood boys to mow the lawn in summer, then go play four hours of baseball. It hurts Mister B to see dads out alone shoveling snow these days, when their teenage sons are inside playing video games.
• That kids would stay outdoors all day. The key was in the preparation. Layering helped stave off the elements, though frostbite was always a risk. Many a time Mister B recalls hands so cold as to loose the feeling of touch, even after donning two pairs of gloves.
• That kids would work hard for very little pay. To boomers like Mister B, any money was welcome. Not every household distributed weekly allowances, and fewer paid the kids for doing expected chores around the house, so any money earned was a chance to get a candy treat or a McDonald’s or Burger Chef cheeseburger and a small bag of french fries. Or, in Mister Boomer’s case, a chance to drop coins into his piggy bank or a dollar or two into his savings account. Mister B always tried to save part of his earnings, meager as they were.
• That kids of differing ages and backgrounds worked as a team. Leaders seem to organically rise in each situation. Each boy was counted on to contribute their best effort within the limitations set by their age.

Though electric and gas-powered snow blowers were beginning to appear, there were none in Mister B’s neighborhood in the early days. So much has changed between the 1950s and today. Technology has helped and hindered in snow removal, but it appears Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) was right in Soylent Green: it’s people. The biggest change in snow removal these days is people!

What memories of snow shoveling come to mind for you, boomers

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

Now vs. Then: The Boomer Snowman Challenge

After the latest round of snowstorms in Mister Boomer’s region, he has noticed the lack of snowmen visible in the neighborhood. While it’s true that these particular snowfalls were icier, leaving the snow uncooperative for snowman-making, after consulting on the subject with some boomer friends, they concurred: in general there appear to be fewer snowmen being made than when we were kids.

The most cynical of this boomer panel attributes the drop in snowman frequency to the fact that, as one boomer put it, “It’s impossible to get my kids to go outside.” Others noted the schedules kids are expected to keep, leaving them little time for outside play. Others still point to the the Generation Gap between the ages; where making a snowman was once considered fun, and every bit a part of the suburban social norm, it now seems passé as community rules, smaller front and back yards, and less viable areas of public parks make the activity far more difficult than it ever was. Besides, most kids over the age of eight just don’t want to make snowmen.

The snowmen our generation made were hardly discernible from those of our parents’ generation. For us, the definitive description of a classic snowman has to be as sung in the tune, Frosty the Snowman. The song was released by Gene Autry (who also sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to us) in 1950. The famous animated version with Jimmy Durante narrating and singing the song didn’t come along until 1969.

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul,
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal.

The snowman’s top hat and scarf were mentioned later on in the song.

With this in mind, then, let the snowman smackdown begin:
THEN: Most often boomers made a snowman with a group of kids of varying ages. That allowed the youngest to be tasked with making the head, while the older kids could roll the base and torso. The goal was always the biggest snowman the group could physically manage to assemble.
NOW: It appears snowman making is not of much interest to kids by the time they reach the age of eight, leaving the activity to the younger set, accompanied by a parent. The result is not only fewer snowmen, but smaller ones. Some seem to be nothing more than hand-packed snowballs rather than the classic three stacked rolls of our generation.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. Unsupervised outdoor activity with children of all ages playing together taught life lessons while providing great exercise.

THEN: We were the last generation to be able to use chunks of coal for a snowman’s eyes, mouth and buttons. Actually, Mister Boomer had an aunt who still heated her house with a coal-burning furnace in the 1950s, but the houses in his neighborhood were all fueled by natural gas. Consequently, that meant his neighborhood didn’t use the classic Frosty coal, but rather, small rocks or buttons from their mothers’ sewing baskets. More often than not, boomers used a carrot for a nose that added dimension to the face.
NOW: You’ll see small rocks used for eyes and mouths, and Mister Boomer has even observed a rare sighting of charcoal briquets employed as a coal substitute, but more often than not, today’s snowmen have eyes that consist of a poke of a finger, while the mouth is a hand slash to form a smiley face rather than the connect-the-dots smile preferred in our generation. Some carrots are visible as snowmen noses today, but it’s possible that carrots aren’t as prevalent in the fridge as they were in our day and that may explain the quantity disparity.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. When working in a monotone medium such as snow, one cannot dismiss the importance of contrast.

THEN: While boomers seldom added a corncob pipe — though one was available in Mister B’s basement from previous Halloween costume props — scarves and hats were definitely required. For Mister B and his siblings, one of his grandfather’s old hats resided in the basement for Halloween costuming and snowman wardrobes. There was never a worry in the neighborhood that hats and scarves would be stolen. They remained until they were removed by the builders.
NOW: Hats are rare, though an occasional toque or watch cap shows up. The same is true of scarves. For the most part, snowmen appear unadorned.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. Really, you’d let your snowman sit out there in all his naked glory?

THEN: Attempts were made to add hands. Most often these were tree twigs stuck in the sides of the center torso ball. Occasionally boomers would have a “hand” hold an upside-down broom, or an old pair of mittens might be placed over the twigs, jazz-hand style.
NOW: Tree twig hands are still seen on occasion, though it’s been Mister Boomer’s observations that modern snowmen tend to be armless.
ADVANTAGE: Boomers. Just because a new generation tries to redefine the parameters of acceptable snowman-ness, doesn’t make it so.

So, evolution marches on as the venerable snowman of our youth joins the ever-growing list of things that are changing with the times. To that, Mister B lends a grumpy old man exclamation of, “Bah, humbug.”

What have you noticed about snowmen in your area, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History,Seasons and have Comments (2)