My paradise was a child’s fantasy, of course. Beneath the need to work together to win the war, deep divisions split the country. Even as a child I knew my father was the only executive at International General Electric who voted for Roosevelt. But for a brief time after the war a wave of optimism swept across America.
People’s lives had been on hold during four years of war. Pent up energy exploded. Returning GI’s took advantage of government programs encouraging education and housing. We built super-highways and an air transportation infrastructure. We converted the world’s biggest industrial war machine into a consumer powerhouse.
The whole country was on the move. “The cotton pickers and the secretaries might speak of the “New Deal;” the professors and writers were inclined to talk of “liberalism.” Whatever the term, the groups joined in a zest for legislation in favor of lower-income groups, for questioning and nose thumbing, for chopping away at the crust of social caste.” [Eric F. Goldman, The Crucial Decade – and After: America 1945 – 1960, Vintage books]
After fifteen years, my father left International GE and struck out for New York to explore the new field of advertising. My parents auctioned off our possessions in a heartbreaking lawn sale. Treasured possessions and family heirlooms went for pennies.
They closed and locked the house for the last time, backed out the gravel driveway past the towering pine tree, out onto the macadam road where Mayberry bushes concealed one of my many hiding places and drove down Rosendale Road for the last time, the old farmhouse disappearing out the back window as we turned the corner past the apple orchard. I was 11 years old and I have never cried so hard again.
Many of the skills I’ve needed to survive, I learned during those first 11 years of freedom within the confines of a nurturing family and community. My ability to roam freely from our back yard at the age of three or four to the distance a bicycle could take me at eleven and my growing ability to cope with the challenges a free range kid faces, undoubtedly made me cocky. It explains the tilt of my hat. Of course I eventually learned humility, as we all do.
In these tumultuous times, it is a common human experience to be torn from a nurturing culture and thrown into a competitive one, to be forced to give up the traditional for the modern. In my child’s mind, the great depression and the war years were a time of social harmony, shared purpose and hope. I assumed those days would last forever. They did not. How do we survive these wrenching changes? I was about to find out. By the end of the summer, I was plunged into one of America’s first suburbs in Westport, Connecticut.