Offering a quick snapshot of life in America

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It was a fine night that offered an interesting snapshot of America.

Over the Thanksgiving break, I joined with 50 others for an impromptu high school reunion.

We grew up in Bethel Park, a fairly typical American suburb in Pittsburgh, Pa.that exploded in population in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

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Many of our parents had grown up in the city in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. They were brimming with optimism by the time they moved to Bethel.

By 1946, America had won World War II. The baby boom was under way and would last some 18 years.

My parents, born in 1933 and 1937, were of the Silent Generation. In 1956, soon after my father returned from the Army — he was drafted just after the Korean War ended — he took a secure job with the telephone company and married my mother, his high school sweetheart.

They had very little money, but, like many couples then, began a family right away.

By 1964, they’d saved enough to move to a brand-new four-bedroom home in the “Promised Land” — Bethel Park.

They did so because they dreamed of a better life for their children — better schools, a finer home, a safer neighborhood with huge backyards where their children could play.

Bethel Park delivered.

Through the mid-’70s, my classmates and I experienced what was essentially a 1950s upbringing.

Most moms stayed home and ran our neighborhoods like well-oiled machines.

Though it was a rigid time for adults — women had limited opportunities outside the home and dads carried most of the financial burden — it was a great time to be a kid.

There were no 24-hour cable news channels to scare parents into locking their kids in the house.

We played outside all day — we jumped on our bikes and rode throughout South Park, several miles away.

We lived by two basic rules: We better not be late for supper and we better come home when the street lights come on.

Our childhood was marked by a total lack of chaos — an abundance of orderliness and innocence.

I remember one night when our father made us turn off “Love, American Style,” a TV comedy series about romance. Such “racy fare” was not permitted in our home.

We were protected from most of the adult world.

We had little awareness of the war in Vietnam, riots and other turmoil rocking the country.

Our childhood world was one of security and hopefulness, a world in which we were free to dream.

Though the economy was bad during our high school years, it didn’t trouble most of us. We had a raucous good time — many of us had college and bright futures ahead of us.

Our timing was great. When we graduated from college in 1984, the economy was booming — and would continue to grow, for the most part, until 2008.

Now here we are, nearly a half-century old. Our hair is thinning. We’ve put on a few more pounds than we’d like. Many of our surviving parents are ill.

The optimism infused in us from our start is being challenged as we worry about our future, our children’s future, our country’s future.

But a week ago Saturday night, we enjoyed a respite from our adult world.

Our formal 30-year reunion was canceled due to a lack of attendees, but four classmates organized our impromptu reunion instead.

What a grand time it was to chat and laugh with 50 other people who share the common experience of a distinct time and place now gone forever.

Tom Purcell is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Tom at