Bob Harrison Pt.5
180-01N MARCH 2001

Before the advent of the cell telephone and the VCR, before the coming of the supersonic jet and the surface to air missile, before Al Gore or anyone else dreamt of home computers and the internet, prior to the time of the fast attack submarine and nuclear power; yes, even before television and video games, before Chrysler and General Motors sold cars with anti-lock brakes and posi-traction, there was a time when people read books, listened to radios, played card games, talked to each other, went for a drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon, visited each other, read the daily and Sunday newspapers and discussed what they read in normal, everyday conversations.

At the end of the work-week, after the week's groceries were brought in, after everyone in the family was glowing from having been thoroughly scrubbed, hair was neatly combed, after supper dishes were washed and put away, there would come a knock on the front door, a loud "hello, anybody home?" from newly-arrived visitors even though they knew we were home. Nevertheless, protocol must be maintained, certain amenities must be adhered to, special rituals must be followed, so someone would answer, "Come on in" and the house would be filled with laughter and the usual conversation of friends who hadn't seen one another since the previous weekend, "How've you been?", "What's new?", etc. Soon, the card table would be setup and there would be two games of euchre going on, one on the kitchen table and one on the card table. Or, in later years, a game called "500", a game similar to bridge. We never did graduate to the finer techniques of bridge but "500" served our needs just fine.

During the evening, most of the adults drank beer and their kids drank soft drinks, usually Coca Cola, and everyone snacked on pretzels, potato chips, and peanuts. I don't recall that anyone became obnoxious or belligerent from too much beer. Everyone knew when to stop drinking and no one ever broke this rule.

During the summer months, the kids preferred the outside where they could play Hide and Seek, Tag, Slips, or other games made up on the spur of the moment.

Around midnight the card games broke up and the parents gathered up their now-sleeping children and departed for home.

Everyone slept late on Sunday morning. Finally, when all were up and about, the mess from the night before was cleaned up and breakfast was prepared. Then came an hour or two of relaxation before dinner. After dinner dishes were washed and dried, Dad would suggest "going for a ride".

Going for a ride was quite an event. The entire family piled into our old sedan, a 1936 Auburn "touring car" equipped with an eight cylinder Lycoming engine and off we went, to cruise the surrounding county roads admiring the tall corn, the yellow wheat fields, and the well-kept farms of the local farmers.

Occasionally we would pull off to the side of the road to explore a small stream that wandered aimlessly and lazily through the rolling land. This often included pulling off our shoes and socks and wading the cold waters as we sent wary minnows and crawdads scurrying for safety.

There were times, of course, when Mom would pack a picnic lunch in a cardboard box and we would have a picnic beside one of those little creeks and, if we had been foresighted enough, we would change into a pair of short pants and swim for an hour or two.

Reading was a favorite entertainment for all members in my family. Dad and Mom loved to read and all of us kids inherited this trait from them. Not that our reading material would be considered classic but it satisfied us and provided an excellent pastime during the long winter months. I can boast that I have read every book that Edgar Rice Burroughs ever wrote and the same is true for Zane Grey. To this day, there is a box in my garage that contains all of the books (paperbacks) written by Burroughs and on my book shelf in our family room I have most of Zane Grey's novels. Later, I acquired a taste for the classics and have enriched my life with books by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville, Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dana, Poe, Thoreau, Verne, et al. And I still take time to read the modern authors, Robert Ludlum, Clancy, Michener, Allen Eckart, Umberto Eco, et al.

Then there was radio. Radio did something that television can never do. Radio gave you a chance to exercise your imagination which made every program just about perfect. The only place you saw the characters was in your own mind. If Jack, Doc, and Reggie were in a tight spot and Doc was forced to fight a full-grown African lion to satisfy the whim of some Arab Emir, you could hear the roars of that savage beast but it was in your mind's eye that you saw Doc maneuver it into a position where he could sink his knife into its side and breast and finally kill his adversary. Nothing fake about it. Imagination is a wonderful thing.

We also "saw" Max Schmelling knock out Joe Louis in their first fight, then, in the return match, we "saw" Louis annihilate the man from the "super race".

We "saw" the disintegration of the Hindenburgh, that ill-fated dirigible, as the newsman described in graphic detail, almost in hysterics, the explosion and fire of the airship and the terrible loss of life among the passengers and crew.

We "saw" Hitler and Mussolini while they ranted and raved to the masses as they told them about their "superior" blood lines.

And we saw all of these and many other events, but only in our minds.

So, you ask, is there a moral to this rambling on and on and on? If so, what is the moral, you ask with a sneering smirk on your face.

Yes, dear reader, there is a moral and a purpose for perpetrating this lengthy remembrance on your tender psyche.

And here it is: What have we lost with the technological advances in communication? What have we gained?

I won't try to tell you what we have gained; that seems self-evident.

But the loss? Now that I think of it - that also should be self-evident. First, we have turned into a nation of couch potatoes who sit in front of our giant television screens, and when I say "we" I mean our kids as well as we adults, watching asinine sitcoms which depict parents as too stupid to cope with their children in a battle of wits, or watching a football game between millionaire players who try to convince us that they play for the "love of the game" and not for the money, or watching a young rap star who belts out some meaningless diatribe about raping women or killing cops then leaves the studio to beat up on his girl friend or to engage in a gun battle in some night club.

After watching this trash, many of us then try to emulate what we saw in those sitcoms, we make those football millionaires our heroes, thus cheapening the word, "hero", and we give our kids the money to go out and buy a rap star's CDs to enrich him and encourage him to record more filth.

The universities and colleges, many of them, have decided to discontinue courses that were once considered mandatory such as literature courses teaching Shakespeare and the other classics in favor of the unbelievable trash being written today.

But that's not too scary when we read that many of our kids going into those same colleges and universities cannot read anyhow, so I guess it doesn't make any difference.

And why can't they read? Because they spend their free time watching those giant TV screens or listening to Puffy Combs or Eminem instead of reading a book. I read recently that there are kids in college who say they have never read a book completely.

But what really frustrates me is to read about these parents who defend their kids, blaming the teachers, asking for and receiving leniency in grading because it might injure their self esteem if they were given a failing grade and held back a year. As far as I know, failing is not an option any more. That may not be true everywhere but I know it is true for some schools.

Well that's about all of the spleen I can vent for one day. I do think we have given up an immeasurable amount in exchange for the technological advances that have been made. And with those advances, we seem to have lost our way morally and that can only be because of what the entertainment industry shows us to be the "modern" way of life in which young men and women live together, fornicate, have babies, leave the first mate for a second or third and then, when they finally decide to get married, they seem to be overjoyed with the prospect of such an innovative idea.

My recommendation is that we should go back to reading books, listening to the radio, assuming there is anything on the radio worth listening to any more, playing cards, parcheesi, and dominoes, holding conversations, and taking Sunday drives during the summer.

Oh, yes, it wouldn't hurt to go to church on Sunday morning and to re-establish a moral code once more.

Bob Harrison - March 31 2001