“Make up your mind to this. If you are different, you are isolated, not only from people of your own age but from those of your parents’ generation and from your children’s generation too. They’ll never understand you and they’ll be shocked no matter what you do. But your grandparents would probably be proud of you and say: ‘There’s a chip off the old block,’ and your grandchildren will sigh enviously and say: ‘What an old rip Grandma must have been!’ and they’ll try to be like you.” – Mitchell, M. (1936, 1964). Gone With the Wind. New York: Scribner.
Like Scarlett O’Hara, I never really fit into my own generation (but for different reasons). I was too much of a bookworm to make friends easily with the kids with whom I attended school (although I wasn’t the kind of child to be a teacher’s pet, either). In addition, I was born just a bit over halfway into the Baby Boom, which meant I was slightly too young to be a Flower Child. I saw that behavior happening, but it was mainly on the nightly news: the timing of my advent being a half-generation off disqualified me from admission to the hallowed halls of Hippie-dom.
Moreover, I liked to hang out with the old folks – or, at least, to eavesdrop on them, especially when my parents entertained relatives from the city. My mother put us to bed in the early evening (she installed room-darkening window shades for that purpose). I was rarely tired enough to go to sleep right away (the nightly hot bath had the effect of waking me up, rather than relaxing me), so I spent many an hour out of bed, crouched in the dark beside the streak of light that issued between the bedroom door and its jamb, listening to the adults in the adjacent dining room. Everything I heard went over my head, but I’d eavesdrop until I got cold, which made me sleepy enough to stagger back to bed.
I watched whatever animated stuff aired on TV, and it made no difference to me that Elmer Fudd was bald and Mr. Magoo was a retiree who looked like Gramma’s brother-in-law. A lot of the sitcoms of my day featured character actors who were definitely middle-aged. The motion pictures I watched on TV dated from the 1920s through the 1960s: it didn’t bother me to see Cary Grant’s hair change from ebony to silver.
I read whatever fiction I could get my hands on, no matter how old the characters were, or when or where they lived. Many of these books bore my mother’s name on a bookplate, or Gramma’s signature on the flyleaf, but I didn’t give a flying fig about that. The library books which I borrowed on my own card included biographies of Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, who were already dead.
When I grew up, I left home at age 17; enlisted in the Navy and served as a spy; birthed and raised four children in a modified-earth-mother sort of style, dragging them from pillar-to-post while I pursued an entrepreneurial career as a globetrotting childbirth educator and doula; and dropped into and out of universities around the world for nearly 40 years, as I slowly earned three degrees. Then, I started writing novels. My last adventure took place when I was past 50, and was already walking with a cane: two weeks alone in Ireland, researching Irish Firebrands. If my health problems hadn’t ganged up on me, I’d still be traveling.
And yet, a person who is a little more than thirty years my junior recently expressed to me the opinion that most adults who are under age 30 would be unlikely to read Irish Firebrands. “If [they] picked it up and saw that it was about people of [their] mother’s age, [they’d] put it back on the shelf.” (This person teaches undergraduates at a major Midwestern university, and had read my book two years ago, not long after it was first published.)
Are my kids the only Millennials who’ve seen the motion picture Robin and Marian? Do the rest of my “peer group” live such boring lives that it’s inconceivable for middle-aged fictional characters to have adventures, fall in love, have sex? Does the “New Adult” reading demographic really regard older people in such a stereotypical manner? Are young folks really that old-fashioned? After all, didn’t the saying, “Don’t trust anyone who’s over 30,” go out of style when the Baby Boomers who coined it began to turn that much-maligned age? Do other people really stick to reading about their “own kind” of fictional characters?
Or am I just too naïve to be let out on the street without a minder?