Aging: Holy Cow I Must Be Old!
Listen, there are certain truths that cannot be denied. Even though I am young at heart and in excellent shape for someone my age, there is no denying that I have lived a fairly long time. I was recently reading an article by my friend Vicki about rotary phones and that got me thinking about the changes I have seen during my sixty-three years on this planet.
I wrote a short story once about a couple that lived next door to us when I was growing up. In “Sam’s Legacy” I discussed some of the stories that Sam and Delores Conrad told me when I was a child, stories about coming across this country in a covered wagon when they were children, and cutting large trees down with a hand saw. Great changes occurred during their lifetime together and the same has happened while I have been alive.
So I thought I would share with you some of the incredible changes that have happened while I have been walking this planet. Looking back it seems amazing to me; I didn’t really realize until I began this article how many changes I have witnessed.
Shall we begin?
WHAT ABOUT THOSE PHONES?
For the first nine years of my life our family was on a party line. For those of you who are seemingly still in diapers compared to yours truly, a party line was a shared telephone line in a neighborhood. I remember our party line had ten households hooked up to it. You would pick up the phone to make a call and many times someone else would be talking on the line. You could literally listen to someone else’s conversation if you had nothing better to do. Believe me, some of those conversations were classic entertainment.
My grandmother’s phone had to be cranked to charge up the battery so it would work; then you would click the receiver a couple times and a telephone operator would come on and ask which number you wanted to call. Oh my God I’m old!
I remember our telephone number had four digits and it remained that way until I was ten years old at which point population dictated that a prefix be added. Yes, I still remember that phone number…1536…and then Proctor, or PR 1536, and finally PR 9-1536.
Have you ever seen a movie that is set hundreds of years ago and the characters use a quill pen and dip it in ink to write? Well guess what? We used those when I was in grade school. We all had our own bottle of ink and we would dip the tip of the pen into the ink and write. I remember it clearly because those of us who were a bit naughty would dip a girl’s ponytail in our ink bottle if she wasn’t paying attention. That little trick earned me more than one trip to the principal’s office but man oh man, was it ever funny!
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
The first time I flew on a plane was in 1958; my family and I flew to Iowa in a Boeing 707 and it scared the hell out of me. What I remember most about that flight, however, was the fact that there were only fifty people on the plane and the stewardess took four of us at a time up to the cockpit where the pilot explained how everything worked….during the flight. Can you imagine that ever happening in today’s world?
Taking the train was still the number one way of going from Point A to Point B. Union Station in downtown Tacoma was a big deal; I remember how cool it was to hear all of the destinations being announced on the public address system. One thing that has not changed: still today you cannot understand what that person is saying on the P.A. system. It was garbled then and it is still garbled today. One would think with the advancement in technology we could rise above “now leaving on Track #9 for Bossum, Degursbi and Paturquibeb.”
Let me tell you about cars. My grandfather still had a car that required cranking the engine to start it and I wouldn’t go anywhere near that sucker when he cranked it. Our first few cars when I was a kid did not have power steering or power brakes; for those of you who are still wet behind the ears, let me tell you it took some serious muscle power to turn a car in those days. It took both hands and a fervent prayer to God when negotiating your way through traffic back in 1963 when I first started driving.
As a final note: my first car was a classic American muscle car, a 1969 Camaro. For those of you who have never driven one of the classics, man oh man have you ever missed out. I know all about fuel consumption and the damage to the environment and believe me, I’m all for better standards on cars. Having said that, there was no thrill like stomping on the gas pedal in that Camaro and hearing the deep-throated roar and having your body pushed back in the seat as the horses started to gallop. You don’t quite reach that level of excitement in a Toyota Prius! Just sayin!
Drive-in theaters rocked! It was very cool going to a drive-in on a Friday night for a double-feature. Usually it was Horror Friday and those cheesy horror movies of the late 50’s and early 60’s were classics.
I’ll toss in this story for free. I was painfully shy around girls as a teenager. My buddy and I went to a drive-in one summer night back in 1964, and during intermission we were walking to the concession stand to get some popcorn. We passed by this one car that had several teenage girls in it, and one of them dropped her panties out the window. I stopped, looked at the panties, felt my face turning eight shades of crimson, picked up her panties and handed them back to her, saying, “Excuse me, I think you dropped something.” Then my buddy and I continued to the concession stand. That, my friends, is the definition of painfully shy!
Anyway, at the regular theaters you could see double-features most weeks but the really cool thing was…if you paid for a movie you could stay in the theater and watch it over and over again. Theaters also had balconies back then and if you were smart you would sit in the balcony so that you were the one throwing popcorn down below and not the one getting hit by it.
CAN YOU DIVIDE 1,273 BY 547 WITHOUT A CALCULATOR?
Well we could and still can; it’s called long division, and I can still do it. In fact, because of long division and mental math I can still figure out a pretty close rough estimate of a problem in my head today. Calculators are for wimps and you can quote me on that.
While on the school theme, we learned how to spell back then, and diagram sentences, and if we needed help there were these things called dictionaries and encyclopedias, and they were really cool. To this day I still enjoy thumbing through an encyclopedia. It always seemed to be a magical book to me.
LET’S HIDE FROM THE FULLER BRUSH MAN
Does anyone remember the Fuller Brush people? Boy, I sure do! The one that came to our neighborhood was like eighty years old and smelled like moth balls. You could see him coming, carrying this huge suitcase full of his items, and mom would have me hide behind the couch while she slipped into the closet so he would think nobody was at home. It was quite the commando maneuver and I still laugh when I think about it.
TELEVISION AND RADIO
Black and white tv set, usually about a two-inch screen, that’s what we watched. Okay, I’m kidding about the size of the screen, but I know for a fact it was tiny. It had rabbit ears for reception and one of us was constantly screwing around with those ears so we could cut down on the wavy lines and static. In fact, I remember using aluminum foil and coat hangers to get better reception. The first show I saw in color was Walt Disney followed closely by Bonanza.
Radios were in cabinets and on good days they were scratchy in sound quality. I think I got my first transistor radio, pocket-size, when I was thirteen, so 1961. It was so cool to walk around hearing the radio from your pocket. They ran on batteries, of course, and they did not last long, mainly because we never turned the radios off.
SO MUCH MORE
Too much more as a matter of fact. Bicycles had one gear and they were a true test of will going up a hill…but we managed. Woolworth stores had soda fountains and they smelled wonderful when you entered the store. Bowling alleys had pin-setters, guys in the back who put the pins up by hand once they had been knocked down. The rich owned dishwashing machines and that meant yours truly learned at an early age how to wash dishes by hand. Everyone canned fruit and nothing has ever smelled as fresh as laundry that dried out on the line. We paid cash for everything and got paid at the workplace in cash.
And on and on we go! Do I miss those days? A part of me says most definitely, yes! It was a simpler time, and advancements in technology were held in wonder and awe. Today we send un-manned probes to Mars and nobody blinks an eye.
Anyway, there is no denying that I am old in years. I have seen a lot and I expect to see a lot more before I finally go to that big drive-in movie in the sky. Hopefully when I get there, this time I’ll know what to do with those panties when they drop at my feet.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
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