Boomers Talked Turkey at Thanksgiving

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?

Boomers Remember the First “…Gate” — Watergate

There are seminal moments in the life of boomers that conjure vivid memories: John Kennedy’s assassination; Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon; and the Watergate hearings, to name a few. Fifty years ago this week, on June 17, 1972, burglars were arrested while breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington, DC. The story of corruption, abuse of power and ultimately, the cover-up, unfolded before the eyes of the country in a series of televised Senate hearings examining the Watergate scandal.

Every boomer recognizes the names involved: John Dean, John Ehrlichman, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, and of course, Richard Nixon, immediately come to mind. There has been much written through the years about Watergate, not to mention movies and TV interviews. Now at the fiftieth anniversary, there is another avalanche of recollections emerging about the original crime and subsequent cover-up that resulted in the resignation of the President of the United States. Mister Boomer writes about boomers and their way of life in the three decades of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and makes no claim to being a historian. What is important to Mister B at this auspicious anniversary is how boomers absorbed the historical happenings then, and whether their mindset was in any way influenced by these events in the years that followed.

Mister Boomer was a college student when the Watergate hearings were aired. He did watch some of them on TV, but mostly got his information from the daily newspaper. A running account in an ongoing series of articles summarized each of the hearings and latest revelations. Of course, there was also the evening news with Harry Reasoner, John Chancellor or Walter Cronkite.

People sometimes forget that the time span from the arrest of the Watergate burglars to Nixon’s resignation was just over two years. Many months passed to digest the information that exploded in the public realm from the White House, the Senate hearings and reporters, most notably Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from the Washington Post.

To a young Mister B, the parade of names involved in Watergate was difficult to keep track of, but it was evident as individual criminal trials went on that the whole thing was a conspiracy, not merely an office break-in. Most of the boomer males in Mister B’s circle were opposed to every U.S. president since the beginning of the Vietnam war on principal, for the simple reason that they feared getting drafted. Nonetheless, many particularly relished the resignation of Richard Nixon as the culmination of events that began fifty years ago.

What did Watergate mean to your mindset then and now, boomers? Did it shatter your trust in government — as President Gerald Ford attempted to address in the aftermath — and reinforce suspicions that the President of the United States was, despite his pronouncement to the contrary, a crook? Or did it restore your faith in the ability of the government’s watchdogs to hold people in our highest offices accountable?