My grandparents were born at the turn of the century and lived long lives—I used to marvel at the degree of change they experienced in their lifetimes. They were born into homes without telephones or automobiles. I didn’t figure I’d ever see that amount of transformation in my life—everything we needed had already been invented.
But I grew up in a home without air-conditioning, as did most of my friends. I remember hot sweaty nights, lying on the top of the bed without covers, a fan pointed directly at me. My parents later had central air installed, but when I got my married it was back to the fans. On particularly hot summer nights we’d run the tub full of cold water and soak in it every few hours. After a few years, we got two noisy window air conditioners—a big one in the living room and a small one in our bedroom. The roar in your ears was a trade-off for the heat. My two oldest sons may remember a few years without an air-conditioned house, but the youngest has always had the luxury of central air….
I saw my first microwave oven on the day my mother took me to see The Sound of Music at the Trail Theater in downtown St. Joseph, in the mid 1960s. They were doing a demonstration at the appliance store next door to the theater, and had drawn quite a crowd. People were taking turns crowding around to watch cupcakes rise right before their eyes, and then oohing and aahing as the salesmen reached in and pulled the dishes out without any hotpads.
But it was years before the microwave took off among the people I knew—what use really was it? Cupcakes could be made easily in a conventional oven. My parents got us one as a wedding gift fifteen years after that. I quickly discovered it could do more than bake cupcakes.
When I was a senior in high school, I got a job in a local hardware store. This was a big step up from working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, which I did for three years. The owner bought a Betamax video camera, and I was quite enthralled—this was the first video camera I had ever seen. She hooked it up so that she could watch the register from the office. I think it was after that that I began to hear about people recording TV programs to play back later whenever they wanted! I was used to having only three channels, and knowing if you missed something you had wanted to see, you missed it.
I remember later, when my boys were growing up, telling them that I had grown up without a microwave and without a VCR. I remember being asked, with wide-eyed wonder, “How did you live?” Actually, we managed quite well, thank you!
I think if I were to tell a child today the same thing, the question would instead be, “What’s a VCR?” They’re now obsolete.
And can we imagine a life today without the internet? Without information on every subject imaginable available instantly? My dad loved his set of World Book Encyclopedias, and referred to them often. Does anyone today have encyclopedias? Why?
It’s progress. That is, I think so.