Kids growing up nowadays marvel at the thought that there was a time when a person had to use a rotary dial to make a phone call. It sounds so quaint yet archaic. This is not that much different when we baby boomers looked in amazement during the early 1960’s watching The Andy Griffith Show. Sheriff Taylor would click a receiver to get Sarah’s (the operator) attention in order to put a call through
Today’s kids cannot believe that we could only choose among five or six channels to watch on television and that the tv set needed an aerial or sometimes a wire hanger to get half decent picture reception. Or that cars didn’t come with air-conditioning and a rear defogger or an on-board computer screen that helps you navigate where you were going. Part of the fun of going on a vacation trip used to be waiting for the motor club to send a map with the route laid out highlighted by a colored magic marker. In our family, one of us- usually me- would have the responsibility to hold onto the map and tell Dad ever so often how we were doing on course. (It was usually a ruse. He knew where he was going- it was just to keep me preoccupied)
Before computers and the Internet, we would pick up a dictionary to get a word spelled correctly or an encyclopedia to get the facts on any given subject. Solitaire was played with real cards. School assignments were either hand written or pecked out on a typewriter using carbon paper sandwiched between two sheets of normal white stock in order to make sure you kept an extra copy. When you made a mistake and it was too difficult to make the correction aligned properly on the paper, it meant re-typing the entire page.
If you missed your favorite show on television, you hoped that it was re-broadcast during summer rerun season. There were no dvd players let alone vhs or betamax tape machines until some time in the 1970’s. NBC was the all-color network, but in our household we would not get the pleasure of seeing it until the early 1970’s.
We moved into a central air-conditioned house with floor vents in every room in late August 1968. Prior to that, in early 1967, my parents got a window unit for their bedroom in our previous apartment. We all huddled there during the next two hot summers. In the early 1960’s, Dad bought a large window-unit fan that he placed in the middle window in the front parlor of our apartment. Someone convinced him that if you ran the fan in reverse at night, it would suck all the hot air out of the place. We believed it because there was no better alternative and many nights we were lulled to sleep by the humming of that electric sucker.
We didn’t have backpacks to take to school. Instead, we dumped all our books and whatnot into a large briefcase that weighed a ton and lugged it to school each and every day. I had a thermos bottle usually filled with lima bean soup or some other hot derivation and happily anticipated my mother’s version of a daily hot lunch.
Very few containers were plastic. We went scrounging in the alleys for glass bottles of all shapes and sizes to bring to the corner grocery store and collect the two cent and sometimes nickel and even dime deposit refunds, especially for liquor bottles. The liquor store clerk would give us a weird look as to how we managed to have in our possession empty whiskey bottles. He’d also be nervous in having underage kids walking into his place of business. The deposit refunds went a long way to buying candy and baseball cards. By the way, do kids collect cards anymore or do they go on the Internet and check what Bill James has to say about how often left handed batters get hits on an 0-2 count?
Before automated clothes dryers, Ma and her union associates used to hang all our family member’s garments including unmentionables on ropes in the backyard tied from porch posts to fences and let the sun dry them out. And because there was no such thing as permanent press, after hauling in the clothes when no longer damp, she would open up the ironing board, take out the steam iron and proceed to press the clothes and fold them all while the phone cradle was gripped between her neck and shoulder as she carried on a conversation with whomever. Maybe that’s why mothers didn’t work in those days- excuse me, I mean- work outside the home. It took an awful lot to keep the house going.
Times sure have changed and young folk look at you like you knew Methuselah when you tell them all of the above. But, the joke is on them, as time is still changing. Fifty years from now these same kids will have to explain why they had a television, a computer and a telephone instead of just one gadget that fits in the palm of their hand. They’ll have to confirm that they walked instead of using personal power packs filled with compressed air that let them scoot down a pathway and why such a dangerous thing as gasoline was used to fuel a car instead of using good old water.
In case I’m still not kicking around in another fifty years, I’d like to be reincarnated but this time come back as being six feet, two inches tall, with movie star looks, sing like Sinatra, dance like Astaire, think like Einstein, tell jokes like Henny Youngman and otherwise take for granted the conveniences of the day.