Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
The 1980's/90's Computer Links... and now
Listen. “Then” (before gender neutral), you heard of "His" and "Hers" items from deodorants 'made for a woman' to cigarettes for those 'who've come a long way'. America even had a 'hers' silver dollar with Susan B. Anthony's face, although her weight was so insubstantial that she couldn't compete in the man's world. Well, my household's sexual division included a computer. "His" was a loaded powerhouse 486 chip showpiece whose best use was for playing "Links386" golf and other golf games, "Hers" was an 8086 8mhz machine that contained only DOS-3, Word Perfect 5.0, and an undeleted program of Word Perfect 4.2.
His medical degree was earned in 1957, and if he was alert enough to once memorize the human body why was he originally so threatened by my pioneer 1981 computer? Ah, it's because there were no golf programs during the infancy of the first personal computer. When I changed, in 1988, to a hard drive and he found "PGA Golf" fit, he tiptoed into the computer age. However, the graphics were too slow, he abhorred my necessary black and white monitor, and couldn't tolerate the tedious round of golf on that machine.
Anyway, I heard from his computer station, our oldest's former bedroom, "You have to see these Windows things. My DOS golf games will need replacing again." Okay. I walked from our middle child’s growing-up bedroom, my computer space, and saw his 14" color monitor, then returned to monochrome video display.
I liked my word processor for DOS. I knew that everything I did would be complicated. I also knew that my fingers got plenty of exercise with all the keystrokes necessary to activate a command. The only thing I used that didn’t require my glancing at a template anymore was Print, but even that wasn’t just Shift-F7 'cause I had to decide what I wanted to do once the screen was displayed.
Windows. I pulled down the shade in "His" computer room after he left for work, then turned on his machine. It took awhile to boot up a 170 hard drive loaded with pre-installed programs and installed games; and I thought my machine was slow! Finally, Windows. I was used to a prompt for date, time, C>; I gazed at a maze of colorful icons. If, I thought, I seemed to like this 'ease', then I'd have to upgrade my machine and word processor to a modern stage. But no games! None. Golf, for me, is an outdoors event.
Mouse. I live in a spot where I've moles, voles and chipmunks running under the house foundation, deer at my kitchen window, rabbits eating anything I plant. A mouse is something I give a coumadin-like pellet to help it leave this life peacefully. Yuk. I needed to use, at his computer, a plastic blob called a mouse.
One on-screen icon said Main, so I dragged the blob on his desk and went click, click. Main dragged out of sight; nothing happened to the screen. Oops. I killed Main. Feeling frightened about being found out, I turned off the computer, waited a minute, turned it on again. Main was gone! I clicked, and clicked but it didn't reappear. I knew I'd have to confess that I sneaked into that room and accidentally zapped an icon. How could I save face when I've chided him about buying Godzilla when he really could have made-do with a baby chimp?
I looked in the manual. An engineer must have written it and one sentence had a double negative and made no sense at all. As a former college writing instructor, I corrected the grammar error. I couldn't find a Restore-Icon-deleted-by-spouse command. Okay. I decided I'd serve dinner with candlelight and music, then break the news.
Word Perfect mailed me a brochure about its Windows. "Just push the right buttons" it proclaimed, and "activate them with a click of the mouse." Little pictures of Mirror, Rotate, Enlarge, Fig Pos were above a column called Figure Editor. I'd have to be the figure-editor just to figure out the pictures. I even hate stop signs on the road that don't actually write Stop, or circles on a car's dashboard knob when I don't understand whether it's for lights or air circulation or whatever. Mirror looked like geometry or a hair bow; Enlarge seemed to be a medical symbol for one of the sexes; Fig Pos, at first glance looked like a bicycle. Well, no one ever saw in Psychology 101's Rorschach tests what I saw anyway.
Windows, I decided, wouldn’t be anything more to me than glass panes to either clean with smelly ammonia or look out of as daylight streams in. "Who said you had to work hard to do hard work?" said the word processor for Windows advertising pamphlet. Did the text writer ever try to create one of that company's Master Documents? Everything in that program had been hard work; if it became simple it could be harder work for me to learn simple!
"Come look at Sawgrass," he said before we made a trip and actually played the TPC course. His computer's monitor gave me a fast aerial view, then zoomed in for a lower angle. The colors were vivid but my attention span for this method of golf was about ten seconds.
I shrugged my shoulders, yet was amazed at how quickly he learned so much about computers to self-install more memory, even to add a CD-ROM in December 1993, and it all started because of golf games. So he called me obtuse. Well, I did consider inching up to Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS...but that was only a maybe, 'cause it supported a mouse. Yuk.
“Now”: Ah, it’s 2019! My age shows if I ever talk about monochromatic monitors and DOS keystrokes. Internet didn’t exist, nor e-mail, nor folders to store photographs taken from a telephone that sits in one’s pocket, and only the aged know what a 5 1/4" floppy disk once was. And word-counts were done same as by typewriter, and a printer was a 9-point pin dot matrix with perforated paper edges that needed tearing off once a roll came through the machine.
“His” machine is still a powerhouse with retina-display monitor and sound so clear you’d think a concert hall system was inside. He needs excessive speed for playing Solitaire cards; listening to golf tips as a pro, onscreen, gives lessons; reading the news that’s already been seen in the daily printed paper dropped on our doorstep each morning. “Hers”. Well, I had to get Windows 10 when a decade-old Vista decided its hard drive had done enough hard work. My Word Processor is still the almost obsolete Word Perfect, but I hadn’t realized, until too late, that it had no ability to download a PDF file as my Home/School Edition lacks that. My 1988 (when a hard-drive came out) keyboard still clacks and I was able to get a coupling to actually hook it up to the modern monitor. The keyboard is the same length as my all-in-one desktop computer and happily I don’t have company visit that room; shocked expressions on faces would not be able to be camouflaged.
Soon, ‘his’ and ‘hers’ will blur, like current unisex bathrooms in public places. And a New York law now actually allows a birth certificate to list ‘x’ under gender. But that’s something for another time. He’s got Alexa and Echo Show; I have a paper dictionary by choice. But I can text and with emojis on a smartphone, and he hasn’t learned that yet. Hm.
2009 Clear Mountain
Flashes of memory. Long ago. Is getting old what’s causing it? Doubtful, as my brain has not declared me as aged as my skin looks. Might it be because my parents are not living? Perhaps. But these instances of surfacing-recall aren’t happening when lying in the dark on a sleepless night...they just seem to ‘happen’.
"Lois?" My mother shouted from downstairs. "Lois, can you hear me?"
"Sure, Mom." I continued ripping tissue paper, knowing a book was beneath the wrapping. I bent forward from a crosslegged position, slid my bedroom's door wider and called out "What's up?"
"Come to the top of the stairs, please. I don't want to keep shouting."
I got up and went to the staircase. Leaning over the polished oak bannister railing, with weight on my elbows, I looked down and saw the top of my mother's head. Soft hair was caught in a mesh snood. I knew my mother would first call 'be careful'; I liked this tenderness but kept that to myself.
"Oh, be careful, honey," My mother uttered. "Don't lean like that. You might fall." A metal hairpin slid as she tilted her head to talk. "Julie phoned and said she'd be over soon."
"I didn't hear the phone," I smiled enjoying the predictable dialogue.
"I picked it up on the first ring." My mother pushed the hairpin back grabbing some elastic of the hairnet.
"Thanks, Mom." I pulled myself erect, returned to my room and moved the door nearly closed; tacked on the back was a poem 'Bless this house Oh Lord I pray, Keep it safe both night and day...'
I picked up and squeezed the wrapping paper, then dropped it in a tiny wastebasket next to my red maple desk. I bent back the book's firm jacket to loosen the binding, then read inside the front cover. "To Princess, whose love-of-poetry-secret she's shared with me. Love, Dad."
I was glad it was, to me, so old, printed in '41, that it didn't carry the 1944 notice 'a wartime book' as “The Secret Spring” novel and so many of my new books. Poems and wars shouldn't go together, I thought, then stared at the single in-color photo on its front page: a young-looking man seemed to have a fast-paced step yet carried a cane. I wondered why he carried a walking stick; those were for old people.
"'Healthy, free, the world before me,'" I recited words below the photo and resumed sitting crosslegged on the linoleum floor. I balanced Louis Untermeyer's book, “Stars to Steer By”, on my thighs and tucked a stray clump of wrinkled, white, tissue paper gift-wrap under one knee. "So, Mr. Whitman, The Open Road made the frontspiece." I looked up, scanned my personal bedroom, then fingered the printed text. "Yes I am 'Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.'"
Brass chimes sounded. I quickly turned to page 14, and whispered from Whitman, "'Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first.'"
I snapped shut the book, shoved it into a slot on the maple bookcase shelf, and shifted personalities. "Up, here, Julie.”
“Stars to Steer By.” I gave that copy to my own daughter many years ago. Eventually her daughter read it. And the late-1940's of my early childhood is, literally, from another century. I can’t process time, and, obviously, neither can my mind. I can ‘see’ my mother, so young yet so old to my then-thinking, and her hairnets securing strands the way the snoods were fashionable for her age and time. I thought snoods were ugly and looked like grocery sacks on women’s heads; I never told my mother that, however.
My appendix scar was thick. Funny impressions from the clamps used made the incision look like a series of the letter 't'. The doctor had given me those metal clamps to save; stitches were old-fashioned, he'd said, and surgeons were using these new devices to secure skin. Victory in Japan Day was a celebration but, for me, surgery. Alone, in my room, I pulled up my skirt and slip, pushed down the elastic on my underwear, then ran my slim finger over the vertical incision line. I dropped all back in place and walked to my dressing table. "Ten days in the hospital," I spoke to my reflection, "it's good to be home.”
I sat in front of the triple mirror and practiced smiles. Like a segment from "The Three Bears", I commented, 'this is too wide, this one's too phony, this looks stuck up, this is wholesome and just right'. I didn't notice my younger sister, Joy, whose head only peered around the door jam. I ran fingers through my silky long hair and pulled it to the top of my head. "I'm pretty," I said matter-of-factly. "Good thing appendixes aren't in places that show scars."
The kidney shaped dressing table was made of unpainted wood and I, alone, had painted the surface. My mother hand-sewed white organdy with green felt-like polka dots into a gathered dressing table skirt. The beveled edge triple mirror rested on top with its largest part touching the wall behind it. Few items were on the table and most sat on a small oval gold-toned metal tray. Letters to answer were clipped with a wooden clothespin and sat behind one wing of the mirror.
"Lift, eyebrow, lift," I commanded one blonde brow. "Oh, I'll never use that. What a stuck-up, put-down look that is." I adjusted the movable mirror sides to examine my profile. "Well, nose, you could be better. Ears, I like you with your attached lobes. Dracula would love my long neck; the easier to suck your blood," I said in a fake accent. I turned sideways, caught a flash of the large blue-green eyes at the same time I spotted Joy, who then scooted away.
Joy ran into the bathroom. No one could chase her in here. I could hear her brushing her teeth with the toothpowder, and knew she’d poured it directly on the bristles rather than dabbing it into her palm.
I tucked both pinkies inside soft corners of my mouth, smiled and stretched skin at the same time. I couldn't see my expression very well as the pulling caused my eyes to close into tiny slits. I released lips, stuck my tongue out and stared in the mirror. "So this is what the doctor sees." I ran one finger over the tiny pink bumps on my tongue's surface. Bumps felt like the skin of a fresh peach; my finger tickled the tongue. Tucking the tip behind my upper teeth, I tried to look at the underside. I had to raise my head high to peek. I pulled the corners of my eyes towards my ears but couldn't see a reflection in the mirror because my eyes wouldn't focus. I took a deep breath but held it from coming out. My cheeks became balloons; with both hands, I popped them. I recalled being Joy’s age, four years ago, and doing that; a giggle escaped with the air and I splattered the mirror. I wiped it with my right sleeve. I swelled my face again and tried not to giggle. The mirror was blurred where I'd wiped it. My third finger found the space between nostrils and I pushed up. Again, I couldn't easily see how it looked because I saw an outline of my finger close to my eyes. No matter how I moved my head, that finger found my eyes first. I drew down the soft flesh below my eyes and saw the moist red skin. I tried to smile; I couldn't and also hold my lower lids open. My cheeks rose and got in the way. My face hurt a little from all the pulling and strange expressions.
“See, stupid appendix that’s gone. Now I’m really looking at myself, and,” I giggled at my slightly reddened face from all the maneuvers, “mirror, mirror not on the wall, I like myself!”
Did my children pull at their faces, examining the soft pink flesh beneath eyelids? Did they puff out their cheeks and pop them with their own palms? Why was I too busy to stop and notice, if they did? The responsibility of domestic chores, caring for mate and offspring, helping with homework, sewing, chauffeuring without carpools because of my silly notion that no one would drive as carefully as I did, playing duets with them on my mother’s 1939 Baby Grand piano, making snowmen, soothing fevers. Suddenly the children were adults and I never asked if they played with their faces, practiced expressions, decided about mannerisms that were offensive (as I’d felt with one eyebrow raising).
I looked into my older sister Carole's bedroom after I walked up the flight of stairs heading for my own room. I liked this room only when the sun was ready to go down and the western red glow came through the double windows. Twin beds had a lamp table between them. All the furniture was red maple, like mine. Above each bed was a picture of a ballerina housed in a lighting fixture that had a triple switch: switch-one caused indirect lighting and the ballerina took on a soft glow; switch-two caused direct lighting from the bottom of the metal frame and the ballerina appeared more defined; switch-three lit both above and below parts of the frame and forced a vitality in the ballerina as well as better illumination. I liked the Lightolier fixtures, couldn't understand why Carole had ballerinas as she was the only one who didn't take dance lessons. The ceiling had been wallpapered for a dramatic look, popular in the late 1940's; I didn't like the effect.
A triple dresser had pull handles not knobs. It had a tatted doily on top, and a mirror on the wall over it. Carole kept a comb, brush, and rubber bands on the doily. Under the bed were romance magazines, but no books or personal trinkets sat out. When forced to study at a table, Carole used the dining room rather than have a desk in her own room. A lime green velvet chair was placed in a corner between the double exposure windows facing both north and west.
I turned and crossed the hall.
My room was darker now than earlier in the morning as the sun had shifted on its way to the opposite side of the house. I turned on the overhead light and picked up the invitation left on my cluttered desk. On a beige, shiny, penny postcard was an offer to join the Chiclets and meet at 8:30 PM every Tuesday at a Center in the next town.
"Chickory chick cha la, cha la," I hummed, walked over to my closet and opened the door. "Hello clothes!"
"Do you always talk to your dresses?" Joy came into the room.
"Hi, kid, don't you?" I giggled. "Look. I'm going to be a Chicklet."
"And I'll be Double-Bubble," My mother walked by the open door and contributed to the conversation.
"Oh, Mom!" I pretended exasperation.
"Dinner soon." My mother walked to the master bedroom.
"Better not be liver again. Yuk." Joy yelled as loudly as she could. Turning to me, "Why is liver necessary?"
"Will you go out at night?" Joy asked about the Chicklets. "How'll you get there and home?"
"Daddy'll drive me!"
"Daddy," Joy moved to the bed and sat there with legs crossed, "is tired at night."
"Well he takes the 7:12 every morning and doesn't get home for at least twelve more hours." Joy had recently realized how long our father was away each day.
"Joy," I began with a tone of wisdom, "parents are parents. They don't get tired. Why daddy'll even take all my friends home 'cause their fathers probably are too selfish. Daddy won't mind. He never minds anything for us. Really. You don't know anything about being a parent."
"Well I know they stay up all night with us when we're sick."
"See? Parents aren't like other people. They don't get tired and don't need much sleep."
"I guess so."
"Boys meet in one room and girls in another. We'll plan parties, and dances, and some do-gooders fund-raising things. Then, after the meeting every week, we'll turn on the juke box and dance. Neat, huh." I pulled out my favorite green pleated skirt and held it against my hips. "Like this for the first meeting? Really grown-up?"
"You're not supposed to look grown-up until high school, Lois." Joy warned. "Just like no lipstick or polished nails."
"Oh. Poo. This is different."
I replaced the skirt on the wooden hangar bar, closed the closet door, pulled off my shoes and socks and began to stuff Kleenex between my toes.
"Are you going to dance barefoot at the Chicklets?" Joy watched with fascination.
"No. It's just like one day I'll wear lacy, silky underthings. No one will see them but I'll know I have them on. Bloomers and cotton and woolies are all yucky and I'll never, ever, put on anything heavy and ugly like that once I'm all grown. Well, nails all painted red on my toes are the same thing. My secret like the panties'll be one day, but I know I've polish."
The phone rang in the hallway.
"Mom's got it. Probably Grandma. 'And where's my kiss, miss?'" I giggled and imitated my grandmother's voice.
I don’t make my grandchildren think kissing is an obligation. I hated ‘where’s my kiss, miss’, and the attempt at rhyme was so annoying. But why didn’t my grandmother tell me about her strengths or pass on stories that meant something? Only now, with some research, do I know she was a widow with five small children, no life insurance, yet somehow managed to convey the idea that education was vital as well as pass a set of values to her fatherless brood. Only now do I know that she buried a toddler way-way before she buried my father. Did she have fears even coming alone to America as a teen? How did she marry her friend from the same European village but in New York City? How did he get to America? Why wouldn’t she even give me her special recipe for tall brown cake when I asked for it?
But, then, why didn’t I realize that parents are not put on earth to do everything for me, and never complain. And why didn’t I understand that age 45 to have a fatal heart attack was not because my father was an old man. Old. It’s so relative. But my mother, who remained alone for the rest of her life, didn’t share too much more burden than my grandmother; my mother smiled, came whenever I sent for her, left whenever she sensed I needed my personal space back. My children hugged and kissed her, squirted her with water pistols, tossed snowballs in her face; my grandchildren do that with me. But my children probably think their dad and I are going to be around ‘forever’, and agile, and share celebrations that they’ll have with their own children. We won’t, my husband and I have whispered to one another, but allow our own children to think otherwise.
The number on the fat tailfin was barely legible... possibly NC8653S. My camera printed pictures only 2 ½ x 2 ½ and that included a half-inch border all around. Hard to make out the digits as the camera snapped the machine through a chain-link fence. I stared at the tiny snapshot, secured by green corners, once it was licked and pasted on the black felt-like album page. In white ink, to show up against the ebony paper, I hand printed "a plane through a fence at La Guardia Airport Jan. 25, 1947."
The shiny tube, with its elevated front end seemingly perched to take on the wind even when resting, was fascinating enough that I used an entire roll of black and white film and several pages in the 15 cent album to capture it. The roadway to the airport and Manhattan showed few autos; the airport had fewer planes.
I pulled out the United postcard I'd gotten onboard my very first airplane flight on July 7, 1946. The 'age of flight' seemed to be coming. Schoolchildren were now making field trips to watch the airplanes and look at an expensive means of transportation. Standing on observation decks hoping to see a take-off, I felt privileged to actually have traveled in the wind inside a tube. "It's the fascination of a man-made bird that makes Superman's faster-than-a-speeding-bullet exciting." I talked aloud as I touched the photo corners' package and spilled them out on the table.
A newly fixed photo in my maroon album showed persons walking on the field to board a Northeast aircraft. Distorted, only by the angle my girlhood hands held a camera, I actually caught three airplanes in the print's colorless square. In white ink, to show up against the album's black paper, I wrote: I rode into this airport on July 7, 1946. I know what flying is really like. I climbed the airplane's outside stairs, fastened my seat buckle, checked to see if a might-needed vomit bag was reachable in the seat pocket. And a plane doesn't take-off until the stewardess gives everyone onboard two, tiny, white coated, teeth-shaped pieces of chewing gum.
I moved to a preceding page, saw the patrol boat photo taken in Bayside, and remembered why I couldn't show my mother that picture. She had told me not to take my bicycle to Long Island Sound as patrol boats were guarding the waters and she thought it was not safe for me; I went anyway.
Photos. No black albums anymore with velvet-like paper that leaves lint on fingers. Video and sound. Digital cameras put photos on CD’s ready to slip into a computer slot and e-mail anywhere. I scan photos to send when I have any developed rather than put on CD’s. Computers seem to store everything in special programs designed to even ‘fix’ snapshots that have red-eye or color imperfections. Smartphones with instant messaging have made digital cameras cumbersome and not necessary.
And airplanes. Since September 11, 2001, the sight of an airplane fleetingly reminds me of terrorism. Two of my grandsons, standing on the roof of their Brooklyn school, actually witnessed the second terrorist plane intentionally force itself into the second tower of the World Trade Center. They don’t talk about it. Did they see humans leap from shattered windows? Did the ball of flame frighten them? Did the smell of jet fuel, bodies, smashed concrete, and such, permeate the air as far away as their eyes saw? Oh that they might have enjoyed those silly teeth-shaped chicklet pieces of gum given because, in 1946, the cabins were unpressurized. How would they have liked the propellers that revolved, and people at observation points waving to passengers just as if each were going on a ship from a dock?
Patrol boats. Perhaps they’re back. Certainly we’ve patrol aircraft since September 11, 2001. It was so ‘innocent’ when I took my green bicycle with those fat rubber tires and bounced the stairs over the parkway in order to get closer to Long Island Sound. Maybe my mother really knew where I was and decided to not scold me but quietly admired my spunk. I’ll never know; I never asked, even years and years later.
Oh, I’ve decided my memory is a gift. So the flashes come. Most of the time I like these fragments. Now I’d like some more years to have them drift across my thoughts.
November 2002 Rochester Shorts ©2002 Lois Greene Stone
The Palmer Method of Penmanship is gone
Books: banking’s cardboard-covered, school’s three-ring composition, blue outside/white ruled inside for exams. Texts, music, reading, even a bag toted to classes but held in the arms had the adjective book before the word bag. Tangible reminders of most everything went into an album called a scrapbook. Paper dolls, coloring pictures, personal diary, telephone numbers, encyclopedias, dictionaries, addresses of friends and relatives, a row of thin matches came in books. People with excellent grades but socially awkward were called bookworms. Removable heavy paper circling bound printed matter was a book jacket. Secret messages went into a black book. Recipes were filed, family births went into a Bible, and commencement volumes called yearbooks also made up pieces of our lives.
Online: banking, much schoolwork, e-readers, telephone information, family/ friends/ Yellow Pages done via Internet. Nerd has replaced the studious put-down label. Who needs a scrapbook when photos are instantly taken and sent or stored on a ‘cloud’! A book-bag no longer is toted in arms but is called a back pack with straps around shoulders freeing the hands. Recipes are called up via Artificial Intelligence. Secrets are shared via texting, and piano sheet music is loaded on a tablet holding hundreds of classics through present-day.
Generations that handwrote, as quickly as possible, what a professor was speaking, and turned in essays typed on manual machines, bought tiny firm circles to paste on each notebook paper to secure its fragile holes from pulling away from the binder with constant use. Probably few know what those circles are anymore, if any even are manufactured, and wouldn’t understand photograph ‘corners’ bought to secure a snapshot in an album.
In 1941, my parents gave me a book of poetry called “Stars to Steer By.” One poem, in this Louis Untermeyer collection, penned by Lewis Carroll, began: "You are old, Father William, the young man said, And your hair has become very white” and I liked the meter as a little girl and had no concept of ‘old’ for anyone. And while the poem appears in Carroll’s “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” (1865), I actually didn’t read that work until my college English-major years and its political implications were easily recognizable once the professor spoke of that. But, to me, Father William’s verse was nonsense, and like the song “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay, My, oh, my, what a wonderful day” by James Baskett, or the silly 1940's tune “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey, A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?” by Al Hoffman / Jerry Livingston / Milton Drake, the silliness appealed to me.
Perched on a mahogany shelf in my daughter and son-in-law’s living room, the hardcover’s firmness doesn’t reveal that 1941 book was handled by me for so much of my life, my notes on margins commenting about the poems (penned with liquid ink as ballpoints were ‘future’) resisted fading. Their daughter, who composed poetry that appeared in magazines plus Chicken Soup books all before she was even out of high school, handled the very same pages as I did, giggled a bit over some of my margin musings.
Shelves in my house have most of my college required reading. How could I sell anything back to the bookstore? Each was ‘mine’. Even a grad school Descriptive Linguistic softcover workbook had to be saved! Margins continued to hold comments; I argued with Thoreau for his words about society when he abandoned such and lived in a secluded area. I let Whitman know I, too, stood on Brooklyn Bridge. There were no highlighting pens, but I underlined Shakespeare’s prose plus put my feelings in margins. Art books with mostly black and white photos were too important to ever sell back, and by junior year I’d switched minors from Sociology/Anthropology to Art. A grandson took an Art history course at a university, and rather than Google when he asked about a specific work and my thoughts, I opened the 1950's heavy books with pages that hadn’t faded even with time, and shared these. For a report, he cited some sentences and the professor must have wondered who would have old-old-old textbooks, real textbooks, and we spoke about the humor of that.
Laptop computers are carried to/from school. Microphones can record lectures. Oral can be made into written as voice recognition programs have gotten more sophisticated. Shelves no longer are burdened with 78rpm record albums, vinyl recordings, CD music, taped cassettes. Shelves are no longer burdened with snapshot albums, VHS tapes, VCR recorders ready to be pulled off to document a family’s get-together with the voice and movement not able on 16mm or 8mm silent film reels. Boxed print-film negatives have vanished. The top drawer in a girl’s nightstand has no diary as Social Media has replaced that.
Better? Worse? No, just different. “Stars to Steer By” will go down another generation or two. My comments won’t be able to be read as cursive-handwriting is no longer taught.
Coincidence? Maybe that’s a ‘connection’ of sorts I can’t easily see. I grew up turning a dial on a radio, waited for the fat tubes to heat up, and then magically a broadcast came on. My mind saw whatever it wanted for background, actors, singers, sounds of rain or even hoofbeats. When my parents took me to sit in a studio and watch a broadcast being done live, it was quite awful; the ethereal quality of rain was nothing more than a person shaking a piece of tin, and the hoofbeats that I’d romanticized coming from an Arabian horse galloping with its mane blowing were cup-like things hitting a slab of wood. After that, as sounds streamed through slots in the radio’s box, the romantic visual left with my childhood.
I also disliked the growing-up phrase that things happen for a reason. The vague wording seemed more like an attempt to justify misfortune that there’s no control over. When breath abruptly left my 45 year old father, what possibly was the reason? No sermons or philosophy courses could connect the dots for me regarding such.
Aging altered some views and, yet, rationalization seemed to linger. Driving to a famous golf course in Virginia, my husband’s pinkie-finger was broken. A friend, also a golfer, should have understood our 10 hour each-way drive was to actually just play a specific Nature-beautiful course, and understand our emotional pain with him no longer being able to do that, but, rather, he offered his Eastern religious philosophy: our driving was delayed to attend to the finger, and it was predetermined that we should pause because an accident might have been ahead and we were spared. Was that just ‘comfort talk’, or might that belief be possible?
Last summer, on a trip from our home near Canada’s border, to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, had me thinking of that Eastern belief. My younger son, his wife, and their two daughters, who live near our house, took their van; my husband and I were driven in our sedan, for our personal comfort, by their son. Several days later, we all began our ride home. We three in the sedan left about twenty minutes ahead of the van, and the GPS was effective going so we trusted it with the return. Paper maps, and AAA Triptiks were things of the past. The present, with a computer voice, said ‘right turn ahead’; the path divisions had a right lane but also a road veering to the right at the same spot. We took the road. About a quarter mile up, re-calculations began, and the directions altered. Re-routing done by the system always found the route to our destination, so, of course, we followed the changes.
The mountains were steep, and the stretch was narrow as if only horse-drawn carriages should occupy its width, although old-radio’s hoofbeats would sound wrong on pavement, yet it was open for two lane travel. Constant curves made visibility difficult. Our grandson kept a 30 mph speed. Higher we climbed; our ears felt as if we were in an aircraft. Eventually, we began to descend, drove over a one-lane bridge appreciative that the traffic in the other direction was sparse, and assumed we would be miles and miles closer to home and pick up a main road many towns nearer to our final mileage. Not so. We’d gone in a complete circle! Ending up at exactly where the ‘right turn’ took us on a right turn and not merely the right lane, we saw the car in front of us: it was the van my son was driving with the rest of his family!
Grandson apologized for the situation, which did not require any apology as the GPS misled us and then its usual re-calculations couldn’t do more than take us twenty minutes out of our way in order to be at the exact point of error. I felt, suddenly, that, maybe, it was ‘meant to be’ so we could ride in tandem with the family, somehow watch out for one another for the long trip. We all stopped at the same rest stops and also had lunch at the same time, and the thruway sign indicating the final exit was seen within minutes of one another. The ‘error’ was responsible.
Was that coincidence? Was the GPS misleading us for a reason? Could my generally rational mind accept such a concept? I touched the travel-amulet around my neck, a 14k gold locket given to me by my parents when I turned age 18 and contains photos of them at that point in time, and whispered “thanks”. Since radio waves are invisible, but they exist, maybe the GPS was ‘taken over’ by what I can’t see?
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