COMING OF AGE
The Story of Our Century by Those Who've Lived It
Chicago radio legend and oral historian Terkel (Race, 1992, etc.), himself an active octogenarian, leads a chorus of 68 senior citizens who vow not to go gentle into that good night. The leitmotif of this work is sounded in the inaugural interview by environmentalist David Brower, founder of the Friends of the Earth: "The older you are, the freer you are, as long as you last." The accent, as in Terkers Working (1974), is on careers rather than personal lives. For his subjects, who range in age from 70 to 99, Terkel, an unreconstructed liberal, chose mostly kindred rebel spirits: e.g., John Kenneth Galbraith, Congressman Henry Gonzalez (D-Tex.), labor leader Victor Reuther, self-proclaimed "secular humanist" columnist Betty McCollister, and pioneering gay liberationist Harry Hay. Only one respondent, an 82-year-old stockbroker, counters his implicit portrait of risk-taking seniors when she notes of their investment proclivities, "Older people are . . . less interested in taking chances." These men and women are eyewitnesses to the social tumult of this century: civil-rights struggles, environmental catastrophe, war, poverty, the corporate jungle, sexual revolution, and McCarthyism. Many focus on youthful struggles, like Genora Johnson Dollinger, who recalls how, as a fiery 23-year-old, she mounted a union sound truck during the 1937 Flint sit-down strike against GM. Others discuss continuing the good fight even to this day, such as Millie Beck, who takes on doctors and HMOs for their shoddy treatment of the elderly, and Joe Begley, a 75-year-old Kentucky storekeeper and strip-mining opponent who pledges, "The last flicker of my life will be against something that I don't think ought to be." Common concerns here include the role of technology in modern society, the historical amnesia and scary future of the young, ethnic and class divisions that many attribute to the Reagan-Bush administrations, and, inevitably, the toll that age has taken on their health. These interviews pay stirring tribute to "living repositories of our past, our history.