Boomers Knew Signs of the Times

It occurred to Mister Boomer that our generation knew and employed hand gestures — signs of the times, if you will — that became identified with our generation. Some we inherited from previous generations and carried on the tradition, while others we adapted and made our own.

Pee-yeew!
The symbol for “something is not smelling right” is a thumb and index finger grasping one’s nose. A gesture often used by children, it could under those circumstances relate to personal proximity to a gaseous presence, often emanating from a sibling. When performed behind the back of the alleged offender, often an adult, it was a “man, this stinks” statement to surrounding siblings or classroom pals.
In later years, it was used to describe the stench of polluted air. Occasionally it was used as a metaphor to protest government action that, to the protester, meant “something stinks here.”

Peace Sign
Perhaps the hand gesture that is most often identified with the Baby Boomer generation, this sign of the times consisted of lifting the first two fingers of a hand to form a “V.” Similar to a Boy Scout oath-taking hand gesture, it differed in the separation of the fingers.
Most people know that Winston Churchill utilized the gesture as a rallying symbol to mean “V for Victory” during the second World War. Yet there is evidence of its use as a symbol of victory as far back as the 1400s. Two boomer-era presidents — Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon — were known to raise both arms fully extended in a “V for Victory” stance in political rallies.
Boomers adapted it as a sign of peace during protests of the Vietnam War, a symbol simply stating, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.” It became identified with pacifists and hippies, but survived and spread beyond the counter culture.

Roll Down Your Window
Boomers know the sign to ask the person in the next car to roll down their window is a hand grasping an invisible handle that is then rotated repeatedly. It was an indication of the manual method most people were required to perform to raise or lower a window inside a car.
Most often used at stoplights, it could be utilized to ask for directions, or in the case of boomers, more often to talk to members of the opposite sex. It might also be used to invite the other driver to race when the light changed.

Boomers recall Mike Myers immortalizing the gesture in the 1992 movie, Wayne’s World. When his character and his cohort Garth (Dana Carvey) pull alongside a Rolls Royce at a stoplight, he does the hand gesture to ask the other car’s occupant if he has any Grey Poupon — a spoof of a popular TV commercial of that time.

Check, Please
Everyone knows a hand wave in a restaurant is meant to gain the attention of a server, most often to indicate that the meal is complete and the bill is requested. It can be a simple raised hand and arm like a student in a classroom, or a hand waving. It is often seen as a hand holding an unseen pen and writing in the air.
This hand gesture did not start with Baby Boomers, but Mister B is including it here because the concept of middle class families enjoying fine dining was mostly unknown in the early part of the Baby Boom. As the middle class grew in the 1950s and ’60s, it has been Mister B’s anecdotal experience that families went to restaurants mainly on special occasions. Boomers would see their fathers perform the gesture at the end of a Mother’s Day meal, and, a few years later when going to a restaurant became an option for dating, employed the hand sign themselves.

Middle Finger Salute
Another symbol that has a long history around the globe, boomers embraced this insult gesture as their own. There was no greater way to express rebellion against the Establishment than to perform the obscene gesture of raising a middle finger, whether that was aimed at the grown-ups from previous generation, at teachers or government.
By the 1970s, the gesture had been overused for all sorts of mundane occasions, diluting the earlier insult and shock factor that drew a separation line between generations.

How about you, boomers? Do you recall these or other hand gestures that you think of as signs of our time?

Boomers Remember the First Earth Day

This “pause,” as the governor of New York has labelled our multiple-month home sheltering, has caused us to examine many things. One is, the fact that the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day was celebrated this past week without crowds of young people yelling at the Establishment to do something now, was sorely missed by Mister Boomer.

The anniversary reminded him of his Earth Day experience fifty years ago in April of 1970. Mister B has told the story before, how he and his sister made an Earth Day flag of green and white stripes with a Greek Theta symbol in the area that holds the stars on the national flag. It was something he saw somewhere, and wanted to copy the design, because the following day — Earth Day — he was to lead a bicycle parade for two miles to his high school. It worked well enough, suspended on the makeshift flagpole that he carried throughout the route.

Along the way, cars would honk at the parade of a few dozen teens on bikes, flag waving in the breeze, but it is still unclear to Mister B if they were honking in solidarity for this new national day of awareness or honking to get the group out of the way. Possibly a little of each.

Once the parade reached the high school, students, teachers and the principal were outside the school to greet them. Bikes away, students and teachers made their way into the awaiting classes. At 11 am, there was a scheduled school assembly outside in front of the building. Students filed out and sat on the grass to hear from some environmentally-minded science and art teachers. The principal came over and asked Mister B if he wanted to run his flag up the flagpole. The grommets he had hammered in the night before were perfect receptors for the clips of the flagpole. In a quick minute Mister B’s handmade Earth Day flag was waving under Old Glory.

It may seem a very liberal thing for a school to do back then, but history as well as personal memory tells us the mood of the country had changed since Rachel Carson’s publishing of Silent Spring in 1962. Living in an industrial city, every person in the school experienced air and water pollution on a daily basis, so it was a topic of great interest. At Mister B’s parochial school, the aims of the environmental movement were in direct harmony with religious teaching.

Here we are, now, in a situation that has made us stop and look out at what is happening on the other side of our windows. What is immediately evident is there are fewer cars on the roads, and many more birds chirping all through the day. Yet, despite awareness to the issue of pollution being raised for fifty years, the fact that reports indicate a thirty percent drop in nitrous dioxide pollution in the United States since the shelter-in-place orders were given a little more than a month ago, clearly show we have a long way to go to protect ourselves and our environment.

What memories do you have of the first Earth Day, boomers?