As Thanksgiving approaches, the airwaves, internet and print media are currently filled with advise on keeping civil discussions around the table when families gather for the holiday. Yet few mention that the divide between people, even in the same family, is not new to the present day. Boomers experienced massive divides within their families — though, like every generation, boomers were never a monolith, and experiences varied widely.
In Mister Boomer’s estimation based solely on anecdotal information garnered from other boomers, the Great Divide around the Thanksgiving table in the boomer years could be categorized into two basic camps: anti-Vietnam war sentiment, and the boomer-era culture war based on style.
Holidays in the early years for Mister Boomer were all spent with extended family, meaning dozens of cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Every Sunday, Mister B and his family would have dinner at one grandparent’s’ house or the other, and sometimes at both. So Thanksgiving felt pretty much like any other Sunday. Kids had their table, so the conversation at the adults’ table was not of much interest to young boomers.
By the time Mister Boomer’s older cousins got married and had children of their own, it was the mid-60s. Aunts and uncles peeled off the large gatherings and started their own traditions within their growing families. Still, uncles especially had and voiced their opinions, and having served during World War II, they often came down on the side of a “My country, right or wrong” sentiment. Some cousins might object, voicing concern for putting young Americans at risk in a war with uncertain goals or an unspoken ending plan. This, of course, hit home for them because they were of Draft age.
Other boomers told Mister B the divide in their homes was more of what became described as The Generation Gap. In particular, boomer boys recall relatives asking them the question raised in the song by the Barbarians in 1965: “Are you a boy, or are you a girl?” Long hair was often a bone of contention in many family gatherings.
These sorts of boomer-era culture war arguments were immortalized in the TV show, All in the Family (1971-79) in classic confrontations between Archie Bunker and the man he referred to as his Meathead son-in-law.
Mister Boomer and his siblings spent their school years in parochial schools, so strict rules prevented longer hair, and uniforms were worn throughout the tenure. For Mister B and many of his friends, the summer immediately following high school graduation was the time to grow longer hair, and possibly try to cultivate facial hair. In Mister B’s experience, his part-time job still had regulations on the length and cut of “acceptable” hair. So scuffles within his family on hair length were few.
For boomer girls, the anecdotal reporting on their family divides voiced the concept of how much freedom they were to have compared to their brothers; arguments arose about timing to leave and return to the house, their choice of dates, what they wore, and in some cases, whether they would be allowed to pursue a college education. These disputes could spill over into the Holiday table on occasion.
Boomers varied in their own beliefs, and their family experiences varied widely as well. Yet articles of the day are replete with Generation Gap terminology and most boomers will recount just how different they were than their parents, in thought and deed. The times were certainly changing, and the divide was widening as boomers reached voting age.
Mister Boomer wishes you all a Happy Thanksgiving filled with delicious food, family traditions, and avoidance of conflict.
How about your families, boomers? Were Thanksgiving dinners contentious or harmonious?