Boomerville, USA

Mom and Dad Create the World, Part III

My experience growing up was like a lot of kids, I suppose.  Though I don’t remember it, my first home after the Arkansas home of my mother’s parents, was in Selah, a small suburb of Yakima, Washington. With my parents and my older brother, we had arrived in a trailer park, once my parents had agreed on Eastern Washington as their compromise for where they would put down stakes for a new family.

My dad, now in full responsibility mode, had become expert in salvage. Always the problem solver, he saw a great opportunity in the flooded city of Vanport, Oregon..  As a result of a massive Columbia River flood on Memorial Day, 1948, the city, which had housed up to 40,000 people during the war as a shipbuilding mecca, was doomed and deserted. My Dad won salvage rights, and travelled the long trip to Oregon each week to salvage lumber and supplies for homes he began building back in the Selah area.

In 1948, the life of my parents was filled with grim purpose: start a family, raise our standard of living, get out of the damn trailer park, and get settled in a home.  With a little help from Mom’s parents, and salvaged lumber from Vanport, our family moved into a new small home in 1949. It’s the first home I remember. Optimism and drive kept my parents at it. They would not accept defeat. They joked about their privation. Their determination out of the depression and then the war was that their children would never suffer the kinds of privation and disappointment they had.

And we didn’t!

Like so many boomers, me and my brothers were raised in a cocoon that protected us from starvation, sickness, even the normal mortality that had been common in our parents’ lives. We were soon borne along on a rising tide of postwar affluence and well-being. We were all benefitting from an economy juiced by war production — but not experiencing the destruction that visited virtually every European country. We had emerged from the war as the strongest economy in the world.

In addition, amazing and visionary policies had emerged in the Franklin Roosevelt administration, which, through redistributive monetary policies, had become the catalyst for the rise of the biggest middle class ever known in the world. And postwar consensus from Truman through LBJ continued its basic policies.

In our little corner of the world, this meant:

  • By 1951 my dad’s homebuilding company had become modular — the latest scientific building system — with walls and roof trusses built in a shop and put together on site. He was selling regularly to VA and Farm Home (FHA) buyers in Yakima and far flung rural communities. By 1954, with a family of four boys, we moved into a nice new home, built by my dad, in Yakima… very suburban.
  • By 1960 my dad purchased a company airplane (basic Piper Cub) to fly throughout Washington to visit homesites where his company was building homes.
  • By 1961, he helped to save the Yakima Bears minor league baseball team, became its President, and served for two years. He had always loved baseball and had been our baseball coach for some years before taking this move.
  • In 1963, he sent his first son to a private college (Whitman) and by 1965 his second son (me) enrolled there, too.
  • In 1965 he was taking advantage of other government housing programs to build starter homes for other families. He began building apartment houses throughout the region.
  • After I left home, there were years of struggle, of course, but plenty of means at hand to weather them and to grow his family in comfort.

Was our family unique?  By no means. Many other families in our suburban neighborhood were on the same trajectory — not to mention fully populated with children in our age group. They were businessmen who became successful in the robust and growing middle class economy. Our affluence was literally exploding!

Boomerville…

…she could see all too well the US succumbing to the most obscene materialism imaginable — boats, cars, toys, consumables.

Whether they meant to, or not, my parents’ scars from the Great Depression created a drive to NOT have their children have to experience the insecurity of those times.  Even though the privations of my parents toughened and seasoned them for the great opportunity of the postwar boom, it resulted in children who didn’t exactly know what the world was really like, but who, emulating their parents, were seeking challenges to sharpen their wits, and give life meaning and purpose.

My mother was a regular Cassandra on these issues: she could see all too well the US succumbing to the most obscene materialism imaginable — boats, cars, toys, consumables. She struggled to create a sense of proportion and restraint within our family, but by the time I had left home, lost that battle to the forces of consumerism that were becoming irresistible through the 60’s.

My older brother and I, raised in privation, but fledged in modest affluence, were straitened by our early experiences, but siblings born just a few years later had known affluence all their lives.

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