Winter Musings: Will the Circle be Unbroken?
The beige ’77 Buick tear-asses down I-40 like a rampaging dinosaur. A dark-haired young man with power sideburns stares coolly through his aviator-framed glasses down the highway like an Okie Kamikaze as he spurs the roaring machine into the horizon. Whipcord muscles shape his faded polo, and a thick ring of keys hangs from a metal bolt-snap clipped to a belt loop. His face, arms, and neck are burnt red-brown from the sun and he sits with the savage casualness of a working man at his leisure, one hand gripping the wheel and the other resting on the frame of the open window.
Beside him sits a happy-eyed brunette in t-shirt and jeans with an easy smile and a love of The Lord. Strands of her long hair blown unbound dance in the wind. She grins toward the backseat at two little boys sitting amidst a hand-picked team of action figures and gas station comic books as she sings along to the Alabama’s Greatest Hits album blasting from the tape deck. She keeps candy in her purse, and if the little boys play their cards right, she’ll dole some out every so often to help keep the peace.
Though the sun is only halfway to its zenith, it already fills the world with a heavy heat. Lazy white clouds wander aimlessly above in a blue sky in defiance of it. And for the young family in the Buick, the earth seems to stretch out before them forever…
One day in late October my mother and I sat at the kitchen table as I put her medication into her new pill planner. She watched me for a time then said, “I remember having to do that for Maw-Maw.” She paused at the memory then seemed to try to grasp at the events surrounding her recent Stroke, or perhaps life in general. She shook her head and said quietly, “It all happened so fast.”
I’m happy and grateful beyond measure to report that in the almost two months since then my mother is well on the mend, (handling her own meds) and planning Christmas. However, I can’t help but feel as if her episode initiated our family into some new season in our time together. There is a change in the air and I am unprepared for it.
Barring the possibility I meet an untimely end as a Bitcoin Death Commando in the El Salvadorian Foreign Legion, at some point I will live to witness my mom and dad pass on from our family. It is difficult for me to imagine life without them. Every new meeting of people in these circles comes with a sharing of their Origin Story, and I suppose at the end of the day mine begins with them. Though I lacked the words or concepts at the time, as a child it seemed to me the world they came from and tried to build around us was under attack. With every year things seemed to get a little harder, crazier, trashy, and unkind. I couldn’t understand the why of it or it or where it came from, but we felt its presence nonetheless.
At this point though, I find it increasingly difficult to care about the churn of current events or what passes for contemporary “life” in general. Everything floats in a fun-house ether of glib madness save for what can be held fast in the gravity of home, memories of yesterday, and dreams for tomorrow. My parents’ romance began almost 50 years ago when my dad asked my grandma if it was alright if he sat next to my mom at a Baptist church revival. As a product of that love I am unable to see a world of things like hookup apps and state-sponsored Trans activism as anything other than sad and dystopian.
In thinking about my parents, I’m reminded of how their generation is perceived. Boomer criticism has become its own genre. They were born into an America that enjoyed strength and prosperity on a level the world had never seen. Everything from marriage to employment, affordable houses, and basic social trust seemed to come easy for them, and yet they will pass down a debt-ridden third-world basket case parody of what once had been a mighty nation. There is truth in those criticisms. However, it’s not the whole truth. There was, and is, so much more to them, and it saddens me the great archetypes to emerge with the Boomer were the Hippie and the Yuppie, both of which strike me as bearing the stamp of a crooked machine.
Theirs was the first generation to grow up sitting in front of a television, and they were far too young (and it was far too new) for them to develop an immunity to its power to compel belief. Academia had just begun to explore its newfound powers developed during the New Deal and supercharged by the GI Bill, and it was committed to its mandate to remake the world, starting with them. What’s more, theirs was the first youth cohort to have significant disposable wealth, and those seeking to profit couldn’t sell them dreams or seduce them with lies fast enough.
Napoleon said, “To understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty.” Can you imagine coming of age in the Sixties or Seventies? You begin life in the halcyon years following WWII. Everything is young as the world rebuilds anew. Rock and Roll is born. Fast cars, movies, surfing, miniskirts, dope, The Pill, astronauts. The specter of nuclear Armageddon looms overhead, and later there will be the slide into troubled times, but there remains the feeling of boundless freedom and the certainty it will all work out. The world was wide open and anything could happen.
Then there was their war. Some like our own Lafayette Lee have held that the warfighters the U.S. sent to Vietnam were among the finest it ever fielded. I believe it. Those boys were running on a whole ‘nother level. One day you’re a young man in high school then you turn around and you’re on patrol in some dank jungle with death at every turn. You cook alive in the stifling heat and humidity, and every step brings with it the possibility of landing on a shit-covered Punji stick or taking you that much closer to a V.C. ambush. Perhaps at a small hole in the earth someone hands you a flashlight and a pistol and you’re expected to crawl on your belly through a claustrophobic dirt-maze darker than ten feet up a coal miner’s ass to see if anyone shoots at you from the other side. Maybe the day ends with you and your buddies un-assing the A.O. in a Chopper while Charlie fires murder at you from below. Or the night could simply bring another long patrol. You do that for about a year, and if you live through it, you’ll return to a world that moved on without you, and other than for those who still love you, most of your countrymen will look at you and see a villain or a dupe to be pitied.
I know a man named “Uncle Jim” who served in that war. I met James through my old unit’s regimental society, and he said he’d been drafted and arrived in-country just in time for the Tet Offensive. When he got downrange he noticed none of the men in the firebase he’d been assigned to wore their flak vests, and when I asked why he explained that when Hell came out of the jungle, the clumsy attempt at armor was useless against a mortar round and in a firefight it served only to slow them down and get in the way. At night, when not on patrol or pulling security, they would lay in their fox holes like graves and live in the quiet fatalism that death and pain would come for them or it wouldn’t. Uncle Jim had been nineteen.
Say what you will about how the Boomers played their hand, but they were all in. They still are. At present, the 2024 election is shaping up to be a contest between Donald Trump and the Biden-Obama machine for who will write the final chapter in the Boomer political dynasty, with RFK Jr. as a dark horse candidate. How much of America’s remaining industrial know-how rests on the shoulders of Boomer men toiling in the traces until they can at last retire? God help us when they do. Most of you reading this probably have parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles from that generation who are fresh out of patience with the ruling class and regularly send links to stories or memes from social media about what’s happening to the country and what to do about it. As they have advanced into their elder years they have fostered power for advocacy groups championing issues ranging from gun rights to homeschooling. I don’t know what Chris Rufo’s volunteer roster looks like, but I have a silver dollar that says he’s got a legion of gray-haired cut-throats on call, just looking for a reason.
One watches the footage of the January 6th “Insurrection!“™ and it looks like you couldn’t throw a rock at a bush without hitting three grandmas. I can only fault them for their naivete; their courage and love of country is beyond question. In spite of a lifetime of betrayals, they still believed. They still thought the government was the servant of the citizenry rather than its masters, and that they had recourse to demand justice when they saw rampant corruption and their rights abused.
In the same way my mind can’t open the door to a future without my parents, it cannot conjure a world not made in the Boomer image. And yet it will come to pass. The world will change, and in their leaving they will gift us the birth of a new frontier. That’s quite an inheritance. As a Gen-Xer I can’t deny a part of me stirs at the prospect of what could be made and mended without having to defer to their generation’s frame. But so much will be lost. I fear whatever freedom we may gain or blessings that await will be threatened by forces maddened by an unhinged lack of restraint the Boomers would never dream. Whatever their sins, they remember a different world and different rules, and in remembering have stayed the hands of a great many evils. Evils that will go unchecked unless met with strength equally daring.
Regardless of what those days may offer, I cannot make myself look forward to them with a light heart. My mother and father will not be there, and in the land to which they’ll go they will have taken a piece of me with them. However, those days are still a ways off. For now, we have much to celebrate.
The Winter Solstice approaches. This is Big Medicine. For those who kept (or keep still) to the old ways, they made it custom to greet the darkness of the long night with fire and defy its cold and death by adorning their home with living evergreen. For those of us who have placed our hope in Christ, Deity took on flesh and was born of a woman during this time. I believe these are potent auspices of a grand mystery. As many have intuited since time immemorial, it is during this season in our course through the heavens that a powerful truth touches the human heart and reveals itself in depths we can barely fathom and only begin to grasp through the portal of ritual and tradition; it whispers to us that even in the darkest visitations light refuses to abandon us, and though surrounded by the void its brightness shines all the more dear.
I would encourage you to be mindful of this season and make a gift of it. Revel in it if you can. Draw those about you whom you love, and perhaps light a candle and say a prayer for those who’ve gone on before you, “both remembered and unremembered.” After all, as my dad says, “All we have is each other.”