Silent Generation Remembered
Relaxing in his Kelly Plantation home is sweeter than ever for Don Schroeder, after working on his first book for more than a dozen years. Photo by Scott Holstein
The Silent Generation Remembered Don Schroeder’s memoir vividly depicts his life growing up in the Heartland after the Great Depression
By Tracy Louthain
A graduate of Indiana University and journalist by trade, Don Schroeder, 75, was fortunate to be in a position to retire from the Bell System in the early ’90s. With extra time on his hands, he started writing down his childhood memories.
“That’s the thing about memories, the things you remember are the important things and you tend to forget the mundane,” shared Schroeder. “There are definitely parts of the book, such as the time at winter scout camp when I had a near death experience, in which I remember every word, clear as crystal. While other memories, I found hard to remember the exact dialog.”
“Air Raid Nights & Radio Days” reveals Schroeder’s childhood experiences with his personal accounts of life growing up in Indianapolis near the end of the Great Depression, during World War II and into the ’50s. In the foreword, he identifies himself as part of the “Silent Generation,” explaining, “Those of us who grew up during these times were not wimps. There were no student movements, because we were very thankful and did not want to be vocal out of respect.”
Schroeder is reminded that he has good reason to be thankful each time he reflects on the many stories and hardships he endured growing up. In his tell-tale book, he divulges how his alcoholic dad disappeared early in his life and his mother persevered with determination to provide for her family, which included Don, his three siblings and his grandmother (Jammy). He recalls climbing into ice trucks to steal ice to suck on, making paper “cootie catchers,” eating more than his share of chicken liver, cow tongue and pigs feet, listening to Fibber McGee and Molly during nighttime air-raid drills and singing in the church choir.
Now enjoying retirement in Destin, Schroeder reflects that these life experiences made him stronger. “I think it’s true of anybody who experiences struggles and hardships. It’s like calisthenics, your muscles grow stronger, you are better able to cope in any situation. But there is no reason to feel sorry for anybody with a more difficult upbringing.” In fact, he writes, “Poor people and rich people are close to the same in happiness and sadness.
It’s just that rich people can be happy or sad in style.”
Affable and gracious, Schroeder uses humor and wit to share his heartfelt stories and paint a picture of a long gone era. “What I want readers to take away from the book is that I kept coming up on my feet,” Schroeder adds. “I didn’t give up and I thanked God every step of the way.”
Now he’s having fun getting all the feedback, hearing from grandparents, parents and kids that they’ve enjoyed the colorful tales of his youth. Schroeder has enjoyed promoting the book and recently wrote a screenplay, which he is currently shopping around.
The book is available locally at Sundog Books in Seaside and the Hidden Lantern in Rosemary Beach, as well as online through Amazon. Tate Publishing offers a digital download with the purchase of the book, as well as the book in eBook format at a discounted price. For a personalized copy, meet Schroeder and his wife, Helen, at one of his many book signings along the coast. And for families with kids, he’s created a stash of handmade cootie catchers.
These excerpts from “Air Raid Nights & Radio Days” follow with the author’s permission:
During those years, I had many heroes besides Dr. Abdon, my bronze-star-winning dentist. And not a single hero let me down. Some were to be found across the street from West Bakery at the Strand Theater on Saturday afternoon. For twenty-five cents a kid could eat popcorn, watch two movies, three cartoons and a newsreel, learn about coming attractions and most importantly catch up on the Tom Mix serial.
Once, just before sitting down to eat with a bunch of church kids, the leader asked me to deliver the grace. At home we never prayed over our food; we just ate it. (I always ate as fast as I could so I would at least get my share.) I stood there, unable to say anything. Finally, a girl my age jumped in and gave the grace. It was as though the covers had been yanked back, revealing my spiritual puniness for everyone to see. I felt more naked than when the Scouts took my pants off.