Have you ever experienced a moment when you realized you are older than you thought? I had one of those recently as I read a children’s book from the early 1990s to my young grandson, Noah. One of the characters needed to call his dad, so he picked up the receiver and dialed the phone on a nearby table.
Noah leaned closer to the illustration. “What’s he doing?”
“He’s calling his daddy,” I said.
“But what’s that in his hand?”
“It’s a phone.”
“No, it isn’t!”
“Noah, believe me, it’s a phone—just like we all used to have. We’d pick up this part,” I said as I gestured to the receiver in the picture. “And we’d hold it like this up to our ear while we pushed the numbers on the base. When the person we were calling answered, we’d talk into this lower part of the receiver,” I pointed to the correct part before adding, “When we were finished with the call, we’d put the receiver back into the holder here, which was called a cradle.”
He stared at me. By then I was having fun, so I added more information: “The older desk phones had a little wheel on front, and we’d put our finger into the wheel holes over the numbers we needed, one by one, and turn the wheel. The first desk phones were black, but when other colors were available, we thought we were living in high cotton. ”
I was on a roll. “And even before those black desk phones, we had wooden phones that hung on the wall. If you wanted to talk, you’d take the round receiver off the phone hook, turn the crank on the side to get the operator’s attention. She’d come on the line, ask who you wanted to call and then ring that person’s number. ”
As Noah frowned, I remembered a phone display at the local historical museum. “Hey, how about next weekend, I’ll take you to the museum, and I’ll show you what I’m talking about. Okay?”
He nodded, and we turned back to the book and the adventures of the little boy who needed to call his daddy. But as I continued reading aloud, Noah occasionally glanced up at me as though wondering what it was like for me to live in a cave when the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
When I came home that night, I opened my office closet. I can’t wait to show him the manual typewriter with which I address envelopes. And I wonder what he will think about the old cassette tapes and player. Should I show him the carbon paper, too? Well, maybe I better slow down a bit. The information about ancient phone communication may be enough of a shock for now.
How about you? What common items do you have that amaze the younger generation? And after you make your list, come on over for a cookout. I’ll supply the dinosaur ribs.