As you probably already know by now, I live in Oklahoma, in the country, in a house I built, living on my retirement check and the lovely monthly check I get for writing these stories.
I am not rolling in dough. But then, again, I am not starving, either. I am pretty much your standard human being, in her sixties, who is retired. There are a lot of us. We’re the Baby Boomers.
Ahhh. The Baby Boomers. William Strauss and Neil Howe, experts on generational studies, say everyone born from 1943 to 1960 are Baby Boomers. Their parameters are that you have to be young enough to not remember World War II and old enough to remember the post war American High, which is that period of time when unions thrived, there was a chicken in every pot, our American infrastructure blossomed into a developed highway system, and Ozzie and Harriet were America’s family.
Of course, there was more to that time than that.
In America, nobody loved Baby Boomers more than business did. There were a lot of us and that meant more buyers for the stuff they sold. It is still selling us stuff. It sells us so much stuff that now we control 80% of personal financial assets, are responsible for 50% of discretionary spending, use 77% of prescription drugs, 61% of over the counter drugs and spend 80% of all leisure travel money.
But we are about more than money. We are responsible for a dramatic social change in our world.
For example, most of us have broken with traditional religion. 42% have dropped out totally, 33% have stayed traditional, and 25% came back after many years but to a less traditional version of religion.
There were three, not one, but three, major assassinations of our most beloved leaders of our young adulthood – John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King. Those horrendous events made us peace lovers.
We became more liberal (and all that that implies) than any other generation. We are the Woodstock generation, our war was Viet Nam which we protested, our music is rock and roll (and all that THAT implies.)
We believed in sexual freedom, were part of a psychedelic drug revolution, believed in civil rights and protecting the environment, women’s equality, and did it all through protests in the streets, in the music, in art, in politics.
We were experimental. We believed in justice and freedom and love, not war.
We were Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1966.
We became teachers. We joined the Peace Corps. We believed that material things were not the end-all, be-all of a person’s life. That, in fact, material things corrupted. Material things came between people.
Not every person who was a Baby Boomer believed or felt this way, but as I’ve aged I have seen at least a delicate strain of this philosophy in almost everyone my age, even in the most conservative of us. Somehow, in some way, we were all affected.
I was deeply affected. I was, by virtue of my experience and my personality, a person who, almost in a caricature kind of way, was the personification of a Baby Boomer. I felt my desire for money and all the things it could buy, fall away. The more humble my personal belongings were, the more virtuous I felt. I was definitely outside the majority. I was (and am) guilty of pride about being a person without a lot of stuff. The less I have, the more I feel like Ghandi. Or Mother Teresa. Or Jesus. (But don’t get me wrong. I still want some stuff. I surely do want some arbors over my decks and the concrete floor stained and sealed. There are some limits to my sainthood.)
What replaced all the material stuff was the feeling of community. We were the generation of communal life. Sharing. Living close to the earth was important. Learning how to weave cloth and grow vegetables and make soap were noble and enlightening. The simple life was the good life.
Years went by. The heat and energy of early action began to dissipate. The world turned.
We got older. We started fitting into everyday life. And more years went by. But that sweetness and goodness of the way we felt when we were doing the right thing never left us. It was part of our souls.
For me, personally, my beliefs had resulted in my having a very tiny nest egg in my older years. But it was enough for my purposes because as I got older I began to think about the next phase of my life. I knew I wanted to be in the country. I craved nature. I knew I wanted to try new things and master them. I wanted to learn how to build and fix and create. I thought about weaving and making soap in my retirement. I thought about living on the land and watching nature and being peaceful. I thought hard and made plans about how I could do all this.
As fate would have it, when we Baby Boomers began to retire in 2007 an economic slow down began. At this point in our lives the very foundation on which we were to build our old age looked shaky. Not only were the unions almost gone from private industry but our pensions and retirement funds had been messed with. Some of us lost everything – the loyal workers at Enron, for instance. The word was that Social Security would be in trouble (don’t believe it!) and Medicare in worse trouble.
But all that didn’t really affect me. I was already in a financial situation that was simple, if not downright skimpy. I did have enough, just enough, to move to the country, build an environmental house of my very own, and live out my life, peacefully, weaving and making soap.
And I did it. I got the land. I built the house. I live simply and peacefully. (But so far no weaving or soap-making. That will come. Maybe. This past week I managed, ALL BY MYSELF, to put a new, heavy-duty screen in my sliding door. It was a bitch, but I did it. Hah!)
Nowadays, my most intimate community are my three dogs, Angela Davis, Joe Biden, and the Neighbor Dog Abby. None of them was chosen. All found me. (This makes me smile. How natural is that?)
Never, ever did I think about how important they would be to me. I’ve had dogs and cats and other species over the years. But I always had humans, too. Lots of children, friends, students in my life every day. Now I live alone. I don’t teach school every day. My own children and grandchildren are thousands of miles away. I am slowly building friendships here in Oklahoma but I tend to be a solitary person so I don’t make the effort often to move off my fat ass and go find them.
My dogs are my family, my community, here. I literally don’t think I could make it out here in the country if I didn’t have them. I now know why human beings domesticated dogs millenia ago.
They give me tremendous peace of mind. They watch over my place at night. They keep the snakes and coyotes away. Several times during the night they are up and about, keeping the homestead safe. I love their barking in the distance. They are my guardian angels.
They give me companionship. Imagine living totally alone with no one to talk to or touch or love! They smile at me with love beams. They crave my presence. They wait for me in the dark, at their posts by the door, when I’ve gone to something or other in the human world.
And now I remember Diego, my first dog out here at Chigger Lake. I realize on a deeper level than ever before how much my dogs mean to me because, as the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
When you live in the country you see life and death up close.
This is what happened:
Diego had begun to seem a bit crotchety. He’d whine sometimes when he was lying on the floor. He started having difficulty getting up. He favored one leg or the other when he walked around the house. He slept a lot. He didn’t have his usual happy face on. I thought he had sprained something. I thought there might be something in his foot and searched for it, to no avail. I thought he couldn’t be having hip problems. He was too young – only three! I thought (actually,I wished) he was basically okay.
But he wasn’t.
Finally I could deny it no longer and took him to the vet’s. It was instantly evident to the good doctor that Diego had two bad knees.
Knees? I hadn’t ever thought about dogs having knees.
The doctor told me that he was seeing a flood of dogs who were having knee problems these days. He had no idea why. He told me that injured knees hurt way worse than injured hips. He told me that unless I could afford thousands of dollars to operate on his knees (and it might be hips as well) that I couldn’t expect him to live happily for more than two or three years before the quality of his life would be so poor that it would be a shame to have him endure much more.
He gave me some pills for his pain. He told me to come back in a couple of weeks to see how he was doing.
So I cradled his big, handsome head in my arms and kissed him on his beautiful face. I looked at him and thought about the finite life he had. And to make myself feel better I thought about how happy his life has been. . . full of squirrel chasing, freedom to roam, human friends in the neighborhood, (he is a well-loved dog,) a pond to splash through, a pretty mate as his companion, sleeping next to my bed on his comfy blankets.
Life is good for a dog who lives with a Baby Boomer.