The Beginning

All stories must have a beginning. Mine commences July 24, 1943, the date of my birth, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Family lore has it I was quite a homely newborn, one who apparently engaged in mortal combat with the birth canal. I had no chin and a nose that was bent to the side of my face. (I was never informed which cheek my schnozzle favored.) My parents nicknamed me Andy after the comic-book character Andy Gump, who literally had no lower jaw. I’m pleased to have provided them some comic relief in ’43, but really, it got old by the time I was in high school.

Most pundits who think about these matters agree that babies born between 1938 and 1946 make up the war-baby generation. We are too young and too lucky to have experienced any of the Great Depression. Many of us have only the faintest recollection of our country being at war with Germany and Japan. And most of us were too old to have been caught up in the campus turmoil and drug culture of the late 1960s. We were the first generation to come of age with rock ’n’ roll in the fifties. The drugs in the saying “Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” were absent for quite a few of us, but you could certainly substitute beer or maybe television in their place.

We were also the first couch potatoes. Marshall “the medium is the message” McLuhan had nothing on us. For many, or at least those of us who were white, our lives were, for the most part, idyllic. Our main conflicts were with our parents over such things as the devil’s music, the length of our hair, homework, Little Richard, and whether we could have the car on Friday night. However, our introduction to and love for so-called black music presented aspects of African American culture in a way that helped spur many of us to participate in the civil-rights struggles of the sixties. We were not completely self-centered—it just looked that way. We were tweeners, wedged between the greatest generation and the boomers. (I know, I know. I skipped the silent generation. Mea culpa.)

Yep, I was a brand-new member of the war-baby generation. Many of us were conceived in lustful haste and abandon with the sword of Damocles hanging over our fathers’ heads. Off to war they went, some never to return. Conventions be damned. Full steam ahead. Well, you get the picture. And no matter what the backstory is, thinking of your parents engaging in baby making is—let’s just say—hard to visualize.

As a youngster growing up in Northfield, Vermont, I often bragged about my Massachusetts heritage. My birth state had the big cities, the Red Sox and Celtics, the ocean and television. Vermont had cows. I waxed on about the Bay State’s superior attributes as I understood them. Most of my classmates were born in Vermont, and many had never left its friendly confines. I thought of them as local yokels, whereas I considered myself to be utterly cosmopolitan—a citizen of the world, if you define the world as the states of Massachusetts and Vermont. Then one day, during sixth grade, my world, my essence, my soul was suddenly altered. I was spouting off as usual about the state where I was born, touting its glories, when one of my provincial classmates rudely informed me that I was not a Vermonter and could never ever be considered one.

“Whaddaya mean?” I replied. “All my mother’s ancestors have been living here since Vermont was an independent republic. My parents, my sister, and all my aunts and uncles were born here. I live here. I am just as much a Vermonter as you are.”

Although I enjoyed needling my peers that I was more worldly than them, I secretly revered the fact that I was also a Green Mountain Boy, a descendant in spirit of that maverick troublemaker, the one that hated both Yorkers as well as redcoats, that hero of Ticonderoga, the big man himself, Ethan Allen. (Of course, truth be told, Ethan and his band of merry men were not native Vermonters either. I wonder what the Abnaki word for Flatlander might be.) My comeuppance went like this.

“Vermont can’t hold a candle or a match to Massachusetts,” I said. “What’s the tallest building in Vermont anyway? Maybe eight stories somewhere in Burlington? How many major-league teams you got? Where’s your ocean? Lake Champlain? Tee-hee.”

“Oh yeah?” said my classmate.

“Yeah,” I said.

“My dad says Massachusetts is full of criminals and mobsters, so there.”

“Yeah, well, my dad says your dad don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.”

“Oh yeah? Well, you’re not a Vermonter and can never be one ’cause you’re a Flatlander. You’re one of those down-country persons, so there.”

            Hmmm, I thought. A new word. Doesn’t sound good.

“My dad says a person not born in Vermont is a Flatlander. Flatlander, Flatlander, Flatlander, Flatlander. You’re nothing but a Flatlander, so there.”

I was a Flatlander? How could that be? I believed the earth was round. I was not a member of the Flat Earth Society. If only that were the case.

I regrettably discovered this word was used by native Vermonters to derogatorily describe those from anywhere else in the universe, whether or not that place had a higher elevation than Vermont. If you were not born in the Green Mountain State, then you were not a native, and therefore you were a Flatlander, period. Oh, the heartache! If I were ever to run for political office, I could not ethically begin my speeches, “As a lifelong Vermonter…” For shame.

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.”

William Shakespeare, King Lear


Copyright 2015 © Peter F. Young

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