Boomers and Dogs
by Donna Schoenkopf
As you probably already know by now, I live in Oklahoma, in the country, in a house I built, living on my retirement check and the lovely monthly check I get for writing these stories.
I am not rolling in dough. But then, again, I am not starving, either. I am pretty much your standard human being, in her sixties, who is retired. There are a lot of us. We’re the Baby Boomers.
Ahhh. The Baby Boomers. William Strauss and Neil Howe, experts on generational studies, say everyone born from 1943 to 1960 is a Baby Boomer. Their parameters are that you have to be young enough to not remember World War II and old enough to remember the post-war American High, which is that period of time when unions thrived, there was a chicken in every pot, our American infrastructure blossomed into an interstate highway system, and Ozzie and Harriet were America’s family.
Of course, there was more to that time than that.
In America, nobody loved Baby Boomers more than business did. There were a lot of us and that meant more buyers for the stuff they sold. They are still selling us stuff. They sell us so much stuff that we control 80% of personal financial assets, are responsible for 50% of discretionary spending, use 77% of prescription drugs and 61% of over-the-counter drugs, and spend 80% of all leisure travel money.
But we are about more than money. We are responsible for a dramatic social change in our world.
For example, most of us have broken with traditional religion. 42% have dropped out totally, 33% have stayed traditional, and 25% came back after many years, but to a less traditional version of religion.
Not one, not two, but three of the most beloved leaders of our young adulthood were assassinated—John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King. Those horrendous events made us peace lovers.
We became more liberal (and all that that implies) than any other generation. We are the Woodstock generation, our war was Vietnam, which we protested, our music is rock and roll (and all that that implies).
We believed in sexual freedom, were part of a psychedelic drug revolution, supported civil rights, the environment, women’s equality, and did it all through protests in the streets, in music, in art, in politics.
We were experimental. We believed in justice and freedom and love, not war.
We were Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1966.
opening of Woodstock
We became teachers. We joined the Peace Corps. We believed that material things were not the be all, end all of a person’s life. That, in fact, material things corrupted. Material things came between people.
Not every Baby Boomer felt this way, but as I’ve aged I have seen at least a delicate strain of this philosophy in almost everyone my age, even in the most conservative of us. Somehow, in some way, we were all affected.
I was deeply affected. I was, by virtue of my experience and my personality, a person who was, almost in a caricature kind of way, the personification of a Baby Boomer. I felt my desire for money and all the things it could buy fall away. The more humble my personal belongings were, the more virtuous I felt. I was definitely outside the majority. I was (and am) guilty of pride about being a person without a lot of stuff. The less I have, the more I feel like Gandhi. Or Mother Teresa. Or Jesus. (But don’t get me wrong. I still want some stuff. I surely do want some arbors over my decks and the concrete floor stained and sealed. There are limits to my sainthood.)
What replaced all the material stuff was the feeling of community. We were the generation of communal life. Sharing. Living close to the earth was important. Learning how to weave and grow vegetables and make soap was noble and enlightening. The simple life was the good life.
Years went by. The heat and energy of early action began to dissipate. The world turned.
We got older. We started fitting into everyday life. And more years went by. But that sweetness and goodness of the way we felt when we were doing the right thing never left us. It was part of our souls.
My beliefs resulted in a very tiny nest egg for my older years. But it was enough for my purposes because as I got older I began to think about the next phase of my life. I knew I wanted to be in the country. I craved nature. I knew I wanted to try new things and master them. I wanted to learn how to build and fix and create. I thought about weaving and making soap in my retirement. I thought about living on the land and watching nature and being peaceful. I thought hard and made plans about how I could do all this.
As fate would have it, when we Baby Boomers began to retire, an economic slowdown began. The very foundation on which we were to build our old age looked shaky. The unions were almost gone from private industry. Our pensions and retirement funds had been messed with. Some of us lost everything—the loyal workers at Enron, for instance. The word was that Social Security would be in trouble (don’t believe it!) and Medicare in worse trouble.
But all that didn’t really affect me. I was already in a simple, if not downright skimpy, financial situation.
I did have enough, just enough, to move to the country, build an environmentally sound house of my very own, and live out my life, peacefully, weaving and making soap.
And I did it. I got the land. I built the house. I live simply and peacefully. (But so far no weaving or soap-making. That will come. Maybe. This past week I managed, ALL BY MYSELF, to put a new, heavy-duty screen in my sliding door. It was a bitch, but I did it. Hah!)
Nowadays, my most intimate community is my two dogs, Diego Rivera and Angela Davis. Neither one of them was chosen. Both found me. (This makes me smile. How natural is that?)
Never, ever did I think about how important they would be to me. I’ve had dogs and cats and other species over the years. But I always had humans, too. Lots of children, friends, students in my life every day. Now I live alone. I don’t teach school every day. My own children and grandchildren are thousands of miles away. I am slowly building friendships here in Oklahoma, but I tend to be a solitary person, so I don’t make the effort often to move off my fat ass and go find them.
My dogs are my family, my community, here. I literally don’t think I could make it out here in the country if I didn’t have them. I now know why human beings domesticated dogs millennia ago.
They give me tremendous peace of mind. They watch over my place at night. They keep the snakes and coyotes away. Several times during the night they are up and about, keeping the homestead safe. I love their barking in the distance. They are my guardian angels.
They give me companionship. Imagine living totally alone, with no one to talk to or touch or love. They smile at me with love beams. They crave my presence. They wait for me in the dark, at their posts by the door, when I’ve gone to something or other in the human world.
And now I am realizing on a deeper level than ever before how much my dogs mean to me because, as the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
I’ve had some bad news about my dear and loyal Diego.
A while back he began to seem a bit crotchety. He’d whine sometimes when he was lying on the floor. He started having difficulty getting up. He favored one leg or the other when he walked around the house. He slept a lot. He didn’t have his usual happy face on. I thought he had sprained something. I thought there might be something in his foot and searched for it, to no avail. I thought he couldn’t be having hip problems. He was too young—only three! I thought, I wished, he was basically okay.
But he wasn’t.
Finally I could deny it no longer and took him to the vet’s. It was instantly evident to the good doctor that Diego had two bad knees.
Knees? I hadn’t ever thought about dogs having knees.
The doctor told me that he was seeing a flood of dogs who were having knee problems these days. He had no idea why. He told me that injured knees hurt way worse than injured hips. He told me that unless I could afford thousands of dollars to operate on his knees (and it might be hips as well) that I couldn’t expect him to live happily for more than two or three years before the quality of his life would be so poor that it would be a shame to have him endure much more.
He gave me some pills for his pain. He told me to come back in a couple of weeks to see how he was doing.
So today I cradle his big, handsome head in my arms and kiss him on his beautiful face.I look at him and think about the finite life he has. And to make myself feel better I think about how happy his life has been ... full of squirrel chasing, freedom to roam, human friends in the neighborhood (he is a well-loved dog), a pond to splash through, a pretty mate as his companion, sleeping next to my bed on his comfy blankets.
Life is good for a dog who lives with a Baby Boomer.