Boomers Knew What Time It Was

The way we tell time is very telling. If you remember picking up a handset and dialing a number to get the time, then you are indeed a boomer.

Nowadays, time travels with you on your phone, but it’s not just any time, it’s synchronized to an atomic clock. Cell phones send a signal to a satellite with GPS, and the satellite has an atomic clock to keep incredibly accurate time. (The sticklers for detail among us may quibble about the misstep by most Android phones that makes time on an Android slightly off. As knowledge of time has evolved since the software for the satellite was produced in 1984, scientists learned they needed to add 15 seconds of “leap time” to the atomic clock. Apple iPhones adjust for this leap time, but most Android phones do not, resulting in a 15 second discrepancy.)

Meanwhile, back in the Boomer Generation, there were several ways boomers could get an approximation of the current time (if not the more exact time). As just mentioned, you could literally call for the time. Mister Boomer didn’t do that call much, but did find it helpful when setting the time on a wall clock or wristwatch. Then, as now, boomers’ lives were geared to time schedules, so an accurate clock in the house was essential for school, work or social functions. Consequently, no matter where you went, there was a clock. Retail stores, the Post Office, doctors’ offices and every classroom had a clock on the wall.

When you were out and about, many buildings displayed large clocks. Sometimes they topped tall towers, while others appeared on the sides of retail buildings such as department stores, and sometimes clocks were perched atop lampposts on a town street.

A personal wristwatch was another way to tell time. Mister Boomer got his first watch in second grade, and had one throughout his school years, into college and beyond. In the days before digital time, the watch had a spring that needed to be wound each day. The physical mechanism created its own limitations that meant some watches were more accurate than others. Mister Boomer’s early Timex watch would “lose time” each day, which would require the time to be manually reset periodically.

Still, for Mister B and most boomers he knew, a wristwatch was not worn while playing, especially outdoors. In the early 1960s, not every watch was shock resistant or water resistant. That meant a boomer needed to rely on other methods to tell time. In Mister B’s neighborhood, no one was all that good at guessing the time based on the shadows cast by the sun.

If Mister B was playing baseball near the church his family attended, he had another way to tell time. The church bells rang once for each hour, from 7 am to 7 pm; count the number of chimes, know the hour. It came in handy to inform kids when it was time to head home for dinner. As the 1960s progressed, more cities passed noise ordinances that limited, among other things, the ringing of church bells. At that point, Mister Boomer’s family church reduced the bell ringing to celebrate weddings, mark funerals, and as a 15-minute warning that a Sunday service was about to begin.

In 1970, the song Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? by Chicago was released as a single. For boomers, the answer was, yes, we did, and we cared about it. The song, of course, was suggesting people take the time to stop and appreciate the little things in life, but boomers had places to go and things to do. Whether at school or at play, boomer lives were scheduled by time; baseball practice at 9 am; English class at 11 am; family dinner at 6 pm, and so on.

If all else failed, boomers could ask someone they passed if they knew the time. At a time when a great many people did not carry the time with them, boomers found ways to get what they needed.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever call for the time on your family’s phone?

Boomers Celebrated a Different Memorial Day

Memorial Day was not declared an official national holiday by Congress until 1971. The origins of the day go back to at least 1868, when it was dubbed Decoration Day; it was a holiday set aside to honor Union soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the Civil War. From its earliest inception, the day was meant for the solemn remembrance of military war dead.

Depending on where boomers lived, they might have had very different experiences regarding Memorial Day in their youth. Not every state marked the occasion, and those that did, might have had a different focus. As the generation that lived during the Civil War began to dwindle, celebrations of the day changed to include those who died in WWI, then WWII. In 1968, Congress acted to move several holidays to specific Mondays in order to create long weekends; this law passed in 1971, creating the modern Memorial Day weekend we celebrate today.

Mister Boomer lived in a state that marked the day as a state holiday since 1871. In the 1950s, Mister B recalls not only getting a day off from school, but going to his town’s annual Memorial Day parade. It was a day filled with marching bands, American flags, military veterans and politicians. As a young boomer, though, Mister B also remembers the grilled hot dogs supplied by a local veterans’ organization.

Mister Boomer, like practically all boomers, had parents and relatives who served during World War II in various capacities. As decades have passed, it can be difficult to remember that the dawn of the Baby Boom began at the end of the War. In the 1950s and ’60s, memories of the War were very fresh for most families. In the 1950s, the President of the United States had been the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces; the president who followed was famously a Navy PT boat captain. Memories of the War, and those who perished in it, were front and center a decade or two later.

It was during the boomer years that the evolution of the holiday grew from a solemn one to a tie-in for holiday weekend sales, backyard barbecues and the unofficial beginning of summer. Mister Boomer surmises it was in part because our parents, the ones who lived through the Great Depression and fought the Great War, wanted something better for their children. As such, many would not talk about their war experiences. Mister B was an adult before he knew that all but one of his uncles saw combat in Europe during the War. By the 1960s, his family marked the holiday with an annual picnic at a state park, that included all of his aunts, uncles and cousins.

So much has changed in the decades since the beginning of the Boomer Generation. Society evolves, in some ways for the better, in others, maybe not. If you had a family member who served and died, your perception of the holiday may be different from those who did not. Whether you visit a cemetery, go buy a mattress or fire up the backyard grill this weekend, Mister Boomer wishes you the best.

Did your family celebrate Memorial Day when you were young, boomers? Has that changed as you have aged?