Every year, Beloit College in Wisconsin grabs a bunch of easy media attention with its “Mindset List.” The purpose of the list is to show you the perspective of freshmen in college, the cultural touchstones they would know — and not know.
The meaning of the list is to remind you that if you say to one of them that you are going to grab a drink from the icebox, they won’t have a clue that you are talking about a refrigerator.
It’s all very cute, and lazy columnists usually beat a deadline with it. A few samples from this year’s list are that incoming freshmen were infants when Bill Clinton was elected. They have never been on a bike without wearing a helmet, the communists have never ruled Russia and Sears has never had a catalog.
But I wanted to put this in a different perspective. Let’s say those incoming freshmen want to have a conversation with a baby boomer — that generation born roughly between the end of World War II and the election of John F. Kennedy. What cultural touchstones had they better understand if they want to understand us?
Well, they better understand that we used rotary phones and typewriters that didn’t plug in. A cell was for bad people.
We watched Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle play baseball, and we would write letters to friends to tell them about it.
We saw televised baseball games from Cuba, bowling-for-dollars and the Friday Night Fights from Madison Square Garden. There were no replays and our first glimpse of game summaries was “Pro Football Highlights” that came on the Saturday night before the Sunday afternoon home games that would be blacked out in our homes. There was no Monday Night Football, and the Steelers lost most of the time.
We sat on the stoop in summer to get out of the heat, husked corn and worried about worms in apples.
We can remember listening to the radio for fun, and getting out of the chair to adjust the horizontal and vertical on the television. If we stayed up past 11 p.m., most of the stations had signed off for the evening with the national anthem.
We read newspapers — morning, afternoon and evening editions — delivered by boys right to our door. Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne and Spencer Tracy were still making movies, and “Twilight” was automatically followed by “Zone.”
For Catholics, we could add a huge subtext to this. A whole bunch of baby boomer Catholics were taught by nuns — either in Catholic school or in release-time classes. A holy day of obligation was an obligation, even when it fell on a Saturday or a Monday, and Catholic school kids always had the day off after Halloween.
We would never be caught in a church with a hat on our head if we were guys or without a hat — or a mantilla — for girls. In fact, we clearly remember girls at Mass with Kleenex stuck to the top of their heads with bobby pins.
There were altar boys but no altar girls, and we stopped to say the Angelus when the church bells rang at noon.
We never ate meat on Friday, were taught that the family that prays together, stays together, and went to confession before receiving Communion.
So, for college freshmen to properly communicate with a baby boomer today, you have to understand this sentence: “I was at the Five-and-Dime, but couldn’t get Mad because I was short two-bits from my route, so I got Pez, Good-N-Plenty and a Yoo-Hoo.”
And to communicate with a Catholic baby boomer you have to understand that, and understand as well that Dominus vobiscum is always followed by Et cum spiritu tuo. (And you will need to know that in English come this Advent.)
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.