Will the baby boom generation be the last stand for the classic old-school hobby? With Millennials and Gen-Xers part of a sweeping demographic that has either come of age or existed solely within a culture centered around everyday reliance on the internet and social media devices, it can seem that way.
But a look into the dens and workshop of the Boomers reveals that as long as they’re around, hobbies that have nothing to do with electronics are still very much with us. Again, for the purposes of this discussion, the committed pursuance of a musical or artistic talent and participation in sports are not considered “hobbies.”We’ll start with my very own mother-in-law, LaVonne, rest her soul. Her thing was embroidery, and she excelled at it. But she wasn’t embroidering samplers with old-fashioned sayings like “There’s no place like home.” LaVonne handmade pillows, blankets, hats and other items meant for everyday use, and then adorned them with custom stitching that personalized her creations.
A Fred Meyer employee for most of her life, she spent her days walking linoleum floors and helping customers. Next door to her store on McLoughlin Blvd. was a Fabric Land, the place where she purchased the raw materials that kept her busy for hours at home.
Every Christmas or family birthday LaVonne would gift things she’d made. She never owned a computer.
Bob, a dispatcher for an automobile parts warehouse, carried on the hobby that his father, Bob Sr., made a living at: custom sound systems. We’re talking pre-cassette, pre-CD, pre-everything except for vinyl records and turntables. Bob’s father hung a shingle out in the late fifties and early sixties advertising himself as the man who could create the perfect record-playing set up for your home. In a garage workshop were the tools of his trade: wood cabinets Bob Sr. built and stained himself, speakers of all sizes, and all the now-obsolete components of the stereo systems of yesteryear.
At Bob’s father’s funeral, the classic big band songs he’d loved played on one of his own sound systems, a big console cabinet with a lift-lid record spinner and two mighty speakers on either side. Bob Jr. couldn’t have foreseen the resurgence of interest in actual records, but he’s kept a few of his dad’s systems, now antiques, collected a few others, and built several of his own.
After a long day sending car parts to repair shops around the area, Bob the younger relishes the time he spends in his converted bedroom shop, tinkering with old systems, and playing both big band music and ‘60s- ‘70s era platters from his own generation. “There’s a warm sound you get with tubes and records that you just can’t duplicate,” he says.
“Toward the end of my career,” he says, “we were all brought on board with computers, emails, whatnot. There was a learning curve for me, sure, but I was fine with it.”
Even as his company went high-tech, Mitchell loved to walk in the groves near his home in Yamhill County, spotting indigenous wrens, early robins, and the graceful Blue Herons that alighted in bogs along the river. He took thousands of photos, but only the best of them got framed, classic shots of feathered friends with backdrops that accentuated their beauty and place in the forest or field ecosystem.
Sally also looks skyward for her hobby, but in her case what she’s interested in seeing is kites, of all kinds, shapes, and colors. A retired social worker, from a very early age she anxiously awaited the early-spring kite season on the beach near her childhood home in Nehalem, Oregon. “We didn’t care if they were the cheap paper kites that cost a dollar at the local market,” she says. “Getting that kite aloft got you out of yourself, whatever doldrums you might be experiencing.”
Currently a resident of Milwaukie, Oregon, Sally still has a collection of kites in her basement, from the simplest balsa wood-framed numbers to elaborate Asian kites in the shapes of fishes and dragons. Each spring her daughter’s family packs grandchildren, husband, and grandmother in the SUV for a kite-flying expedition to the beach.
“I know it sounds like a cliché,” says Sally, “but getting a kite out over the breaking waves, so high they become like colorful flecks in the sky, makes me feel young again.”
“And I’m still pretty darn good at it!”
So, there we have it, as predictable as any demographic characteristic. Based on the small sample we’ve talked to in this series, the following conclusions can be conditionally drawn: Millennials are so invested in the internet and social media that finding one with a classic hobby is a real challenge. Gen Xers, on the other hand, may be rebelling against the constant need to stay wired in their professional lives, and are rediscovering hands-on hobbies that have nothing to do with being plugged in.
And the Boomers, for whom the information highway and all its arterials were a relatively late-breaking development? They haven’t forgotten the restfulness and pleasure of craft and creation, of easy contemplation of a collection, of rumination over design, color, and selection. How a hobby can be sewn, displayed, constructed, and shared.
Shared face-to-face, with a real person that is, not on Facebook.