Recent events have made it difficult for me to play the “in my day we walked in snow up to our chins 5 miles uphill both ways” stories to proper advantage.
Kids today can easily one-up me with knee-deep snow in Texas and a pandemic — all at the same time.
Accordingly, I try to wring as much drama as I can out of the Blizzard of 1978. I was in grade school when that hit, dumping mountains of snow and freezing us all in our homes for days.
It’s been pointed out, however, that the sum total of my involvement was to drink a lot of cocoa and play with my Barbie dolls on the living floor for a week straight. I didn’t do much heavy lifting.
I was telling this story of my childhood snow days spent with a book and Gilligan’s Island reruns, when a young friend asked sincerely, “why didn’t you just play on your phone?”
Oh, sweet innocence.
Nowadays we “screen” every call. Most people carry a phone with them all of the time and pride themselves on almost never answering it. That did not work in the past with old landline phones pre 1980s.
You had to answer the phone to know who was calling. You had to say “Hello” or, if you were raised a certain way (I was) “Hello, YOURNAMEHERE residence.”
You had to set the phone down gently and go find the household member the caller was wishing to speak to. Or, if that person was not available, you took out a pen and paper, or chalk and chalkboard, and took an actual written message. It was a whole thing.
On that note, there were rarely cell phones, and those that did exist were bulky, expensive and hard wired into vehicles. You needed to phone home? Call from your friend’s house or use a pay phone.
Pay phones were found in stores, restaurants and some corners. Because the pay phones were never cleaned and likely crawling with germs, we undoubtedly built our immune system every time we dialed.
From a very young age, we learned to memorize telephone numbers. To this day, I remember my great-grandmother’s telephone number. It is tied to my memories of a phone that has been out of service for nearly 30 years. Just don’t ask me about a password I created yesterday.
You couldn’t use Google in the palm of your hand to find all the answers you seek. Research had to be done in the library, or — if a salesman had been lucky enough to convince your family to purchase them — in your massive set of encyclopedias.
My grandparents had a set so old that I never had to know a thing about a president after Truman. The moon walk and Vietnam War were not even mentioned at all. When these books were published, they had not happened yet.
Music and photos
Want to hear your favorite music? Not so fast with the earbuds, kid. In my day, when you wanted to hear your favorite song, you had to call the radio station and wait.
More than likely, you were hovering around the radio waiting for the DJ to play your favorite song. It was considered an art to hone your reflexes to the whip quick pace needed to press the record button on your cassette player at just the right moment to make your own playlist.
No matter how skilled you were, the host would inevitably talk over the song at one end or the other. We assumed it was intentional to force us to buy the 45 record or cassette.
Want to take photos and share them with your friends? Photos were taken with actual cameras on rolls of film that topped out at 12 to 24 images. We had to drop off that film to get it developed and wait a week to see our pictures.
Getting that envelope from the Fotomat or drugstore was quite a thrill. It was truly a surprise each time to see if any of the photographs showed more than blurry thumbs.
Social media was hanging out with your friends in person, or communicating via writing or telephone. Making arrangements at school to meet up on the weekend was how you had a social life at all.
Granted, you also left much of the drama of school at school. There was no real way to know what was going on once you got home. I think that was a particularly nice perk of pre-smartphone days.
It is undeniable that smartphones have brought a lot of entertainment into our lives. Photos, videos, texts and messaging are all handy.
The one thing they will never replicate, however, is the thrill of slamming down a landline phone when you were mad. That was the way to send a real direct message.
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