FAIRFIELD — The peace and prosperity that Americans enjoyed after the end of World War II resulted in 76 million babies born between the years of 1946 and 1964 as many settled down and raised families. The postwar offspring became known fittingly as the baby boomer generation.
The youngest of the baby boomers, born in or close to the cutoff year, are turning the milestone age of 50. Famous cutoff-year boomers include First Lady Michelle Obama, actress Sandra Bullock and author Dan Brown.
Generational studies are not an exact science and gray areas abound. Retired Solano Community College sociology professor and Suisun City resident Glen Gaviglio listed some general cultural touchstones of most baby boomers.
“There’s the civil rights act in ’54, the JFK assassination in ’63, the voting rights act in ’65, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in ’68 among others,” Gaviglio said. “Vietnam and Watergate were watershed events in terms of the erosion of trust Americans have in politicians. Also, one of the major things that happened in the ’60s was the cultural effect of the availability of birth control.”
While many baby boomers relate to the events listed and more, such as Woodstock, the rise and demise of The Beatles and the Kent State shootings, for those born in the tail end of the generation, they are often at best vague memories.
She doesn’t feel like a boomer
Romy Lynn Gongora of Vacaville had been staring at July 5 on her calendar with a certain amount of trepidation ever since New Year’s Day. Saturday was her 50th birthday.
“I held on to 49 with all my strength. When I was a kid, I thought that 50 was old but, of course, I don’t feel that way now,” Gongora said. “My dad used to say, ‘you are only as old as you feel,’ and I am young at heart. I know they say 50 is the new 40, but I really don’t want to get that AARP card in the mail.”
Gongora not only doesn’t feel connected to many of the typical baby boomer landmarks, she was oblivious that she was even considered a part of that generation.
“I never thought I was one. Many of the things they are associated with I don’t remember except for what I heard from my parents and for some of them I wasn’t even born yet,” Gongora said. “I vaguely remember the men landing on the moon and I would have been more excited about it, but I was only 5.”
The generation after the baby boomers, Generation X, features the rise of MTV, the birth of hip-hop and has an unofficial chronicler, late filmmaker John Hughes, who wrote and directed iconic GenX movies such as “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.”
“Those are more of the memories I can relate to. I remember being so excited about MTV. I think we are kind of caught in the middle between the boomers and Generation X,” Gongora said.
Starting to think about retirement
Solano County social worker Claire Kelley, like her Armijo High School classmate Gongora, doesn’t relate as much to her designated generation.
“As a kid, I remember seeing psychedelic and paisley clothes, but the Generation X things are much more prominent to me,” Kelley said. “One thing that stands out in my mind was when the Iranian Revolution happened and they held Americans hostage. I remember at school people picking on Iranian students and once someone threw a shoe at one.”
Other generational markers Kelley pointed out were the death of Elvis Presley in 1977, the murder of John Lennon in 1980 and the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.
Kelley celebrated her 50th birthday in April and, while she still feels like the spry Armijo cheerleader she was 32 years ago, biology is starting to betray her youthful exuberance, she said.
“I still feel like an 18-year-old, but with more of a sense of who I am. I don’t feel 50, but my gray hair is coming in fast and furious,” Kelley said. “At this point in my life, I am starting to think more about retirement.”
He thought hippies were the messiah
Shellworth Chevrolet’s Allen Wheeler was born three days before the assassination of John F. Kennedy so, obviously, that day so seared in the minds of many earlier baby boomers has no connection with him. Wheeler does have a connection with two other baby boomer markers, however: Vietnam and the hippie movement.
“In 1969, my dad was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam and meanwhile my family lived in hippie central in Berkeley,” Wheeler said. “I remember thinking Jesus was everywhere because all the hippies looked like him.”
Wheeler identifies with early 1980s culture and enjoyed music by Depeche Mode and Social Distortion. He will still immediately sit down and watch a movie that has John Hughes’ iconic actress Molly Ringwald in it whenever they are on TV.
Identifying tendencies of people in different generations has practical uses in Wheeler’s chosen profession.
“If you say the wrong thing to members of the new generation, Generation Y, they are more likely to completely shut you out, go back to shopping online and they will not come back. My father’s generation would stay with one car dealer forever,” Wheeler said.
NorthBay Medical Center EMT/Trauma Tech Gail King turned 50 in April and does have some memories of the Vietnam War, because her father was there.
“We were stationed in the Philippines and, when my dad had to go to Vietnam, I remember the fear I had,” King said. “I would fantasize about him coming through my classroom door at school. I couldn’t even concentrate on my school work. I drove my mom crazy asking her every day, how many days it was till daddy gets home.”
King relates to other baby boomer-era events as well, such as the televised Watergate hearings. While the event that eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation sticks in the minds of many baby boomers, King’s recollections were not about political drama.
“I was in the third grade and our ritual was to come home and watch ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and ‘Gunsmoke.’ We couldn’t, though, because stupid Watergate was on every day,” King said.
King describes herself as fun-loving and feisty and despite her diminutive stature she is determined not to be slowed by Father Time.
“People at work tell me I don’t act my age and I always say, ‘I hope not.’ I might be 50 and little at 5 feet 1 inch, but I’m never going to be a little old lady,” King said.
Reach 50-year-old Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected].