It’s funny how some numbers stick in your mind, no matter how much time passes since the last time you needed them. I’ve never been good with numbers. Dates and figures elude me, no matter how I try to remember, but this obsolete phone number is still in there.
I remember when Father became temporarily disabled. Because he was unemployed, Mom had to register us with the Social Security Administration, so she could continue to receive child support until Father completed college and secured a better job. I held that paper card in my hands for hours, studying the blue on gray print, closing my eyes to repeat it, but that number never stayed long in my overly imaginative mind. It wasn’t until I joined the Air Force, where reciting your social is as mandatory as service numbers were in World War II, that I finally memorized these nine crucial numbers.
But the number that rang to the home I grew up in remains, lodged in the darkest corner where memories of my youth and the warmth and fellowship of family reside. This was a time when dialing a long distance call required ten turns of the clicking dial while your heart raced with the rare anticipation of speaking with someone from another state. I still recall how my hands trembled when Mom let me dial the number to a cousin clear across the country who was my age. I never met her, and only spoke to her that once, but the way I felt making the call still lingers after 40-odd years.
Today, such miracles are commonplace. When I grew up, knowledge came from books–real paper books–many of them heavy encyclopedia volumes and hard-cover tomes I hauled by the armload to a library table where my note pad and pencil waited. My first literary composition was a piece of poetry I wrote into a hard-bound book full of blank pages. I still have the book, and although only the first few pages are filled, the illustrations and reflections bring back fond memories. Now information comes from the numerous websites and blogs available on the global network, and our children regard bound books the way Scotty looked at a keyboard during Star Trek, The Voyage Home. For those of you who are not Trek fans, this is the spoiled dismay one feels when faced with antiquated forms.
Sometimes I could wish for these simpler times, when you were constrained to the four to six channels on a thirteen-channel television set with either an aerial cable or rabbit ears connected to the top. We watched as a family on evenings and weekends, our minds broadened by shows like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, The World At War, and 60 Minutes (yes, it’s been on that long, and I waited through all the interviews and commentary for Andy Rooney to give his thought-provoking, and most often humorous, closing thoughts). We laughed at shows like Laugh-In, All In The Family, and The Beverly Hillbillies, explored the future in shows like Star Trek and Lost In Space, and kept up with national events on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love technology. So, unfortunately, does my husband, who spends most of his free time tethered to one boob-tube or another. I couldn’t imagine writing without a computer, and the things I’ve learned to do with a PC have enriched the lives of my family in some surprising ways. And I probably might appreciate the convenience if I were in a bar where the music was so loud the only way to converse with your date is to text him from across the table.
But I see so many children, my 10-year-old granddaughter included, who long for these marvelous toys. Teens and twenties meet for dinner at restaurants, and sit throughout the meal while texting, playing games, or browsing the Internet. My son and his friends are hooked on the new Pokemon game, careless of the information this program’s servers are gathering and storing. People are choosing convenience over a modicum of common sense and caution. Or have I read Orwell’s 1984 too many times?
I’m going to close my eyes, envision the avocado phone hanging on the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and dial the number that rang where life was simple. A 10-year-old child could safely walk a mile to the corner drug store alone. (Lowe’s Market–a convenience store where you could buy stamps and post mail, fill prescriptions, and buy goods and sundries. Oh, and there was a Dairy Queen right next door!) I had four quarters and three nickels jingling in my pocket, with which I would buy a real feast that included a quart-sized milk carton filled with Whoppers, Big Hunk nougat bars, three-foot licorice or cherry ropes (I liked the cherry) and wax containers filled with flavored sugar water. We knew who we were back then. No one was an enemy, no matter their color or background. We respected the law and its officers, and shopped at the same stores, smiling and holding doors because that’s the proper thing to do, and thanking someone who extends that courtesy.
So meet me on 44th Avenue any Saturday afternoon. We’ll listen to the AM radio while we dance under the sprinkler, lay out on the lawn and study the clouds, and laugh at all those who think we really need more.