The Long Winter; Then and Now
“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”
That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves–they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ‘em.”
I never tire of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books no matter how many times I’ve read them, which at this point in my life is many. It seemed like a good time to pull down The Long Winter, one of my favorites in the series, and I’ve been reading it all evening.
When I was little, in the 60’s, I would read these books and long to live “back then.” Always a sucker for the nostalgic, Laura’s days seemed more full of glory than grit. But, I would wonder, “If I were to write of my life, how could it ever seem old?”
Now I tell my children of my childhood, when the televisions were black and white with only four channels: NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN and if we were lucky, PBS. My mother woke us up in the middle of the night, after warming up the TV, so that we could watch Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon in 1969.
The telephones had real operators at the other end, people who could connect you to the person with whom you wanted to speak so that you didn’t even need to dial the phone. It was a glorious day when wall phones with push buttons were installed, the cord so long that my mother could move about the kitchen while talking to my aunt never caring one bit when the rubber caught on fire from being suspended over the stove for too long.
There were no XBoxes, video games, iPhones or iPods. There were doll houses for which I sewed sheets and curtains. There were watercolours with which to paint like Beatrix Potter. There were books to bring home from the library every week. Books which filled my life then as powerfully as they do now.
But, I can relate to Pa’s lament up above. Folks get to depend on the conveniences they have, and with that ease comes less independence. Less ability to do without. I wonder how it would be now, to drive somewhere with a paper map, without a phone in case I broke down. I can hardly remember how I drove Germany’s autobahn in the early 80’s, not speaking a word of German, praying, “Lord! Direct me, because I have no idea at which sign I must exit.”
It’s all relative, I suppose, how much technology effects us. How much it may, in fact, keep us from relying on ourselves.