Gold Gato, October 21, 2013 (view all comments by Gold Gato)
The 1920s suddenly seem to be the rage again, perhaps because those wild years embodied the last innocent time for many, before the Great Crash and the Great Depression made their appearance. This book is not a chronological review of that tumultuous decade but rather a collection of heartfelt remembrances from people who actually lived during that time. These are the letters and personal memories of the Greatest Generation, who were mostly children or young adults when flagpole sitters, talking pictures, and the Charleston made headlines.
Each chapter focuses on a particular subject, such as transportation, radio, motion pictures, and fashion. These are mostly American tales, and it is truly amazing to read how rural the States were at that time. After WWI brought the Yanks to the global scene, urban life began to open up for many, which meant glam dresses for women (shocking!) and a love of spirits. The stories of rum-runners during this time of Prohibition are fascinating, but I particularly loved the radio section. Much as we embrace the Internet, radio was startling to the people of that time. Whole families would gather at one home in small towns to listen, as usually only one house could afford to buy the equipment. Little boys became obsessed with antennas and tubing and could put together the new-fangled sets much as youngsters can dismantle and build their own computers now.
And the movies! The silents ruled and became the majestic, cinematic masterpieces that drew record audiences, until Al Jolson ushered in the "singing pictures". Lucky Lindy made farmers and their children into dreamers, as barnstormers flew into small communities. In many cases, an aeroplane was as alien to the inhabitants as a space shuttle landing in our backyards would be to us.
America was still mostly filled with farms. Children really did walk or sleigh to one-room schoolhouses and did chores before the sun rose each day. Everything was amazing, from candies sitting in barrels in a storefront window to Henry Ford's Model T. Children minded their manners, parents actually spent time with their kids, and farm animals became members of the family.
Perhaps because of the personal nature of these stories, I must admit I shed a tear, especially when Christmas is recalled and the appearance of a single orange meant a successful holiday. As one writer declares, the people were so poor that when the coming Depression sent the nation into a tailspin, most folks didn't know the difference, as the struggle for food and shelter had always been there.
This is the generation which went on to fight WWII and make the sacrifices to enable the rest of us to be spoiled and rude. As a reader with little knowledge of an era which brought rapid-fire technological advances and organized crime, I recommend this collection to anyone who wants a closer look into such an amazing decade.
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