• Mary Lilja

For baby boomers, it’s a time to stop and reflect

Updated: Apr 28

After a walk along the Minnesota River Valley the other day, my husband and I drove to the house where my family lived when I was born in 1955. It is a small home tucked into a neighborhood of nearly identical small houses, paid for through the GI Bill and Dad’s service to his country. When new, there were no garages, no paved driveways and no trees — those were things young couples would add as their budget allowed. It was clear the house had seen better days. The paint was peeling off the chimney, leaving a patchwork effect that, if you didn’t look closely, seemed intentional. A garage had been added somewhere along the way — a luxury my parents could not afford while we lived there — and the maple Dad had planted as a mere seedling was now a huge tree that shaded most of the front yard. It got me thinking that I should write about that time of my life and what it was like to grow up there. And then: what it was like 22 years later for my husband and me to start out in the old duplex we shared with my brother-in-law and his wife (we lived downstairs and they lived up). This stay-at-home order is a unique time in the lives of baby boomers. It’s a time to stop the busyness that has defined our lives, even as many of us are now retired. A time to stop the to-do lists and the shopping runs, the playtimes with grandchildren (sadly) and the visits both to faraway places and the local gym. This is truly a unique time to reflect on our lives and what they have meant. It’s a time to ask: in years to come, how would I like to be remembered? What did I believe in? Where and how did I spend my time? What did I get right, and where did I fall short? What values did I hold dear — what values do I hope my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren also will share?

My great-grandmother, Mary Ellen (pictured on the left)

I know my great-grandmother and namesake Mary Ellen was a tiny, fierce woman who made dandelion wine during Prohibition, smoked cigarettes, spent her summers at a cottage on White Bear Lake and lived winters in an apartment in St. Paul. She wore mostly black and, at the end of her life, cared for a husband with Alzheimer’s. But there is so much I don’t know about her. The current stay-at-home order provides a unique pause in our daily lives to think about our stories and our legacies. Start simply by writing down a few thoughts, and go from there, adding photographs along the way. The memories will come. Write them down. Some will be precious to someone you will never know, someone who perhaps even shares your name, someone who very much wants to know you.


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