Then and Now: Coming of Age in the Best of Times

I turned 13 in 1943, a year of world chaos and personal up-heaval. The world was at war, my family on the move. My dad had joined the navy and after he returned from battles in the Pacific, new orders shifted him about stateside. I attended three junior high and three high schools. Yet it was a wonderful time to enter my teens. And even today I’m still grateful for the innocence and idealism that marked my generation. They forged me—and many others—a confidence to face any future and to look forward to it.

Today, however, I sense an opposite outlook on life—too many youthful cynics, too many who don’t dare to dream. And so too many won’t risk a dream —dedicate themselves beyond the moment.

What created the change? Certainly anxiety over nuclear war since our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to close World War II. The increased fire power today, the threat of nuclear war weapons creates a new reality.   But these are background fears.  Other pressures and anxiety can never be eliminated. We grow up meeting both. But stress and fear as excuses run contrary to the tradition of our history under leaders bred stronger through adversity.

Reflecting on differences in the times, two stand out that helped make it “the best of times.”  The first was how media offered role models. I saw films that showed adults in leading roles who acted “heroically” or at least survived with grace—Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mrs. Miniver, Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley, It’s a Wonderful Life, Bambi, The Yearling.  And I fell in love with any swashbuckler from Errol Flynn to Tyrone Power.

Lines of proper conduct seemed clearly drawn for us in the 1940’s and ‘50s . I don’t know how I’d have developed with sex and violence and betrayal accepted as part of projected adult reality. The old entertainment engaged emotions and reinforced traditional values. Now entertainment more often deadens feelings and violates past morality.

Romance was more than boy-girl relationships. It was also love of the land and patriotic fervor. It was the success story of winning against odds, dreaming grand schemes and working to achieve them.  As corny as it sounds, I believed one person could make a difference, that any challenge could be met.

Amazingly, I still believe—and tried in my years of teaching to pass on some of the old sights and sounds and values. I remain a product of my times. And for those of my generation blessed to be Americans, it was the best of times for growing up in the best of places.

Nancy Bondurant Jones

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This post was submitted by Nancy Bondurant Jones.

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