Author of Looking Backward:2000-1887, Edward Bellamy, wrote in the novel first published in 1888 novel, asked his readers to imagine a scene in which a time-traveler from 1887 reacts to a technological advance from the early 21st century that he describes as, “An arrangement for providing everybody with music in their homes, perfect in quality, unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and beginning and ceasing at will.” It’s amazing to me that many writers of fiction, see the future in a way most of us can’t. Their imaginations manage to picture a future that sometimes, proves to be uncannily like real life in the future. Jules Verne was that way too.
In Bellamy’s imagination…almost inventor-like, this astonishing feat would be accomplished by a vast network of wires connecting individual homes with centrally located concert halls staffed round-the-clock with live performers. Of course, that would be a difficult task to pull off, but in the end, someone else took care of the finer points of Bellamy’s vision. As we all know, today we can turn on a radio, whether plugged into the outlets in our home, or a portable version that we carry around, and of course, these days every smart phone has the ability to listen wirelessly to radio stations, watch television, and download all the music our hearts could desire.
Bellamy’s vision came to pass much sooner than the 2000 predicted date, and without all the wiring he thought would be needed, but he wasn’t too far off in what the end outcome would be…at least for the homes. I doubt it ever occurred to him that it could all be done wirelessly, or that telephones could have the same capability and much more. Of course, at that time, telephones were still in their very primitive stages. On October 1, 1920, Scientific American magazine reported that the rapidly developing medium of radio would soon be used to broadcast music. A revolution in the role of music in everyday life was about to be born.
“It has been well known for some years that by placing a form of telephone transmitter in a concert hall or at any point where music is being played the sound may be carried over telephone wires to an ordinary telephone receiver at a distant point,” began the bulletin in the October 1, 1920 issue of the popular science monthly, “but it is only recently that a method of transmitting music by radio has been found possible.”
People still argue about radio’s origins to this day, but its basic workings had been understood for upwards of 20 years at the time of this announcement. It was only in the years immediately following World War I, however, that radio made the transition from scientific curiosity to practical technology. Then, by late 1919, Britain, the United States and elsewhere were beginning experiments that would lead to the breakthrough use of radio not just as a replacement for the telegraph, but as a communications and entertainment medium. The idea that Bellamy suggested, was coming to pass…a full 81 years sooner than he had expected.
It was those experiments that led to the public announcement in Scientific American. “Music can be performed at any place, radiated into the air through an ordinary radio transmitting set and received at any other place, even though hundreds of miles away,” the report continued, noting that “the music received can be made as loud as desired by suitable operation of the receiving apparatus.” “Experimental concerts are at present being conducted every Friday evening from 8:30 to 11:00 by the Radio Laboratory of the Bureau of Standard. The possibilities of such centralized radio concerts are great and extremely interesting.” Bellamy’s dream had come to pass.
As the three year mark since my mom, Collene Spencer went to Heaven arrives, I realize more and more how many time I have wanted to go to her and ask a question, get her advise, or just hear what she thought of my most recent story. Mom was, after all, my biggest fan. It didn’t matter what I wrote about, she liked it. And so often, she was part of it. She answered my many questions about the family, told me the inspirational things that happened, or the funny things her siblings would dream up. Hearing her talk about it all made me feel like I was there watching her and her siblings growing up. I could feel the coziness of my grandparents house, and hear the laughter of the kids in the kitchen as they did the dishes or helped with cooking the evening meal. Mom created that exclusive viewing for me, and I have felt very privileged to have been able to take that little tour into her history with her. Now that she is in Heaven, I find myself with more questions to ask her, and I really wish that Heaven had a telephone, so I could hear her voice and ask her the things that I want to know, because in Heaven, our minds have perfect recall, so the stories would be even more rich with detail.
Of course, the telephone call would not be just to ask her the many questions I still have, but also to hear her voice again, and my dad’s voice too. It has been so very long since I have heard their sweet voices, and I think they are among the things I miss the most. Of course, their faces, and really their person, but their voices are the essence of who they were. Thankfully, God has given me a clear memory, and in my memory files, their voices are stored. I can hear Mom’s laugh, along with her way of being just a little bit goofy, and Dad’s teasing, which had a way of driving Mom crazy…and of course, their life lessons…which is probably a nice way of talking about the many times they had to discipline me. Sometimes, I think I might have been their biggest challenge, and I believe my sisters would agree. They have often wondered how I made it to adulthood. All those things went into the life our parents created for us, and I wish every day that we could have them back. I wouldn’t want to go back in time exactly, but rather I wish that they could have continued on into what for them would have been the future. I would love for them to meet the new little family additions they have now. We have added lots of babies, and there are more of them on the way. They have four great great grandchildren now, and one more on the way. They loved those babies, and I wish they could have seen these great great grandbabies. Their legacy continues. If Heaven had a telephone, we could call and let them talk to these precious great grandbabies and great great grandbabies. Oh, how I wish we could call them. There is so much I would like to tell them. If only Heaven had a telephone. While I miss you so much on this day, in particular, Mom, I know that you and Dad are having the most amazing time in Heaven, and you can’t wait for all of us to get there…where we will realize why Heaven doesn’t have a telephone. When we are all there, we will never need telephones again. What an awesome day that will be. We love and miss you Mom…and Dad too. See you both someday soon…and we can hardly wait.
I have noticed in the family history books that my Uncle Bill Spencer put together over the years, that people in the family, or maybe that era, would sometimes just pick up and go visit a different branch of the family…often without much or any advance notice of their impending arrival. I suppose that sometimes they just got excited about finding out about a different branch of the family, and decided to go check it out for themselves. Being a bit shy around strangers, family or otherwise, I find this type of visit to be very strange indeed. What do you say to those people after the initial, “Hello, You don’t know me, but I am your relative from Wyoming.” I would simply have no idea. That is probably why most people who do go to visit relatives they don’t know or don’t know well, take someone else with them…to help carry the conversation. I can’t imagine going alone, and yet that seems to be the norm for some people.
My grandfather did just that when he went out to visit his Aunt Tessie, as did his brother, my Great Uncle Clifford. Oddly, both of them just dropped in on Aunt Tessie!! I don’t know if Uncle Clifford just liked what he heard about Aunt Tessie from his brother, my Grandpa Allen Luther Spencer, or if he was curious about her and her family too, or if he even knew of the prior visit by a member of his family, but he went, and he went alone. I also have to wonder what Aunt Tessie thought of the whole thing…like, “What is it about me that makes these people keep just showing up here?” It appears to me, as it did to my Uncle Bill, that my cousin Cornelius Davis, who was Aunt Tessie’s son, found his cousin a little strange, or maybe the entire visit was just strange to him. It’s possible that he was wondering why these relatives just popped in like they did too, without any advance notice…or maybe he was wondering just how long this guy planned to stay.
Bob and I have gone many times to visit his family in Forsyth, Montana, but we always told them that we were coming, and our stay was just a week. I guess, in days gone by, when it takes a long time to get somewhere, it didn’t make sense just to stay a week, because it probably took several days driving out, so if all you had was a week, you would have to turn around and leave again. Still, I can’t imagine going for a visit without letting anyone know. Of course, the phone was not widely used in those days, so it would mean a telegraph, but it seems that many people just went and didn’t worry about it. Whatever the case may be, my cousin Cornealius seemed to think it was rather a strange visit indeed.
All too often, in this day and age, we don’t think about the modern conveniences that we have. Things like electricity, indoor plumbing, gas (both for cars and houses), cars, television, and telephone are the normal everyday items we count on, but think very little about.
When you consider that not so very many years ago, people had to either get out of bed, practically get dressed, and go outside…even in the bitter cold of winter, to go to the outhouse, you know the outdoor toilet which was a little building out back of the house, or have a pot in the bedroom to use, and then emptied in the morning. Neither choice was perfect, but I suppose the pot in the house would have been better than going outside in the bitter cold of winter. These days we abhor the thought of stopping at a rest stop on a trip and finding out that all it has is an outhouse, because we expect that every place has modern indoor plumbing, whether it is a fact or not.
In times past, people went to bed and got up with the sun, because it was too expensive to light candles or lanterns. The work had to be done by daylight anyway, so they might just as well be up at dawn. of course, most teenagers these days consider anything before noon to be pure torture, and might even whine a little if they have to be up before that hour. Still, there wasn’t really any shift work back then, and families were together in the evening, unless the father was working in another state or town.
Letters were used to communicate, and unfortunately that often meant that if your loved ones didn’t live in the same place you did, you might hear of their passing months after the fact. It took a long time for letters to arrive, especially if they were coming from back east. Today, we can inform people of events that happen in our lives, almost the second they happen. In fact, it’s almost like they are there with you, and if it is an event you know about ahead of time, you can Skype with them, and they can watch it happen. Sometimes, even with all of our modern conveniences, we still think life is really hard, but if we think back to days gone by, we will know that we really have no idea what a hard life is.
My father-in-law passed away on May 5, 2013, but my mother-in-law is doing ok. Alzheimer’s Disease has removed all memory of his passing. I know that many people look at Alzheimer’s Disease as being a cruel thief. I can agree with the thief part, in that it has taken her memory of recent events away, but cruel…maybe not. Her mind simply creates its own reality. In her mind he is not gone. He is at work or visiting the neighbors or out in the garage. Death means nothing to her. It has been the same with her parents, who have been gone for 28 and 23 years now.
I have long known that she lived in a world of make believe, but that fact never hit home as much as it did tonight, when Bob and I were out visiting her at the nursing home. She often speaks of those who are closest to her, and sometimes she speaks about you…to you, saying things like, “Caryn is going to be cooking dinner for everyone” when she is talking to me, or “Bobby is on his way to Grandma’s for the summer, to help with the cows” when she is talking to Bob. Corrie and Amy, work at the nursing home…at least in her mind, and my father-in-law is over by the telephone, so he will answer it when it rings. These were just a few of the recent things she has talked about, and things we are getting used to hearing.
Tonight…well, tonight was different. We were talking with my mother-in-law, and the conversation was following the normal lines…or at least, it was until it wasn’t. Suddenly she said, “Hun, can you help me get this afghan over to the sewing machine so I can finish it up.” She was talking to Bob, but to her, he was my father-in-law. At first we thought it was just a slip of the tongue, but then it happened again. She said, “Walt, you need to move that other sewing machine to the table.” We didn’t know exactly how to react. It was not the first time she had mentioned him, but it was the first time she spoke to him when it was actually one of the guys in the family. She thinks nothing of talking to him, but we know that he is gone, and the pain of that parting is still very fresh in our hearts and minds. We can’t be upset with her for what she says, because in her mind, it is reality, but to us it is make believe. Like it or not, we have to play along, because to do anything different is to make her relive his death over and over again.
I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of my father-in-law visiting my mother-in-law. Her mind will bring it up again, and it’s likely that her sons or grandsons will have to play the part again at some point. They will do it, as often as needed, because it is for her. They can do nothing else. They will play the part…so that she can keep her illusion that the love of her life is never far away.
As I was sending out a text today, I began to think about the changes in communication we have had through the years. In the very early years of our nation’s history, when a child married and decided to move West, it sometimes meant that family members never heard from each other again, and if they did, it was hit and miss. I’m sure that there were many broken hearted parents as a result of those moves, and I am equally certain that those moves brought about the changes in communication that we see today.
First, of course came the Pony Express, which while it greatly improved things, was still pretty slow, and news of family members passing or giving birth arrived quite some time after the fact. Not that anyone would have been able make it back in time, but it would be hard to find out after it is all over. The invention of the telephone greatly improved communication, and I’m sure people found it comforting to be able to hear the voice of their loved ones once again.
Today, with so many forms of communications, as well as ease of travel, we are able to see loved ones so often that we, maybe take it for granted. Even if you can’t be with family members, you can Skype, Video Chat, and Face Time, so not only can you hear their voice, but you can see their face, in real time.
Our modern communication abilities have maybe spoiled us to a degree. We have so many ways to talk and travel, and yet, I don’t know about you, but one of the main ways we communicate…texting, is probably the least personal. It seems like in our busy world, it is easier to text and then wait for the answer, than to talk on the phone. The main reason for this is that you have to hold the phone to talk, so unless it is a long conversation, or one that should be held in a more personal way, we choose the more impersonal…texting. Many people think we text too, as a way of not being too social, and maybe that is so. It seems like we are becoming more of a solitary people in some ways. Still, texting, like the Pony Express, the postal service, the telegraph, telephone, computer, and cell phone are all ways of keeping in touch.
When I first went back to work after taking 13 years off to raise my girls up to the junior high level, I found that there were not many places who were willing to take a chance on me and my abilities. That said, I found myself working at a Burger King as the main day girl, mostly working the drive thru window from August, 1988 to April, 1989, when I was hired by our insurance agent and began my career in insurance. The time I spent working at Burger King, while less than fulfilling, because I was capable of so much more, was interesting and I very much enjoyed working with most of the people I worked with. I spent many hours saying, “Thanks for choosing Burger King. May I take your order, please?” It got to be a habit, and I have never forgotten that greeting, normal I’m sure, when you say the same things for so long.
My girls were in junior high when I worked at Burger King, and as we all know, junior high school girls attract junior high school boys. So began the years of phone calls from those boys to my girls. All that seems pretty normal, and it was, but after a long day at work, answering the phone was the last thing I wanted to do. Nevertheless, on this particular night, I answered the phone when it rang, and immediately fell into my normal routine…”Thanks for choosing Burger King…” At that point my mind completely blanked blanked on what should be said. I stumbled along with, “No…that’s not right…not Burger King…” Finally, I pulled out, “Hello.” After a moment of silence on the other end, a boy said, “…is Corrie there???” Yes, without a doubt, he thought I was crazy…and for a moment, maybe he was right.
That has happened to me several times, I’m sorry to say. I have answered my home phone as, “Farmer’s Insurance” or “The Stengel Agency” and I have even made calls to doctors for my parents, and told them I was “Caryn, with The Stengel Agency.” I guess, we get into a habit, at work of saying certain things when we answer the phone, and and after a while, our mind forgets that we aren’t at work. Whatever the reason, telephone faux pas can be pretty embarrassing for the person who momentarily forgets where they are, and pretty funny to the person on the other end of the line.