Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The times, they are a changing.

On the one-hundredth anniversary of my dad’s birth, I thought of the time—the world—he lived in. It is so different from the one my grandchildren and their families are growing up in as to seem like an alien planet out of a science fiction novel.

When Dad was born in rural Nebraska in 1913, his parents had no car, but traveled by foot, horseback, or horse-drawn vehicles. They worked the land with horse-powered implements. Dad’s mother washed their clothes on a washboard in a tub, probably same tub her family all bathed in. She carried water from a pump outside and heated it on a wood- or coal-burning stove. No refrigerator, no television, no electric lights in their house. She ironed their clothing, tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and pillowcases with a flat iron, heated on the stove.

Dad, the eldest of five children was expected to help provide for the family. He did chores and fieldwork as soon as he could hold a rake or a shovel or the reins of a team of draft horses. He quit school after eight grades to work full time in the fields and sometimes hired out to other farmers, giving all his earnings to his parents. He loved to work with horses from the time he was very young. I was sad to learn that he had to leave behind his first horse, one he’d trained to do tricks and follow him like a puppy, when his family moved from Nebraska to Colorado. (But, I digress)

Dad’s first car was a Model T Ford, which he bought in Denver when he was in his early twenties and married. He and Mom were in their late twenties and early to mid thirties by the time they acquired an electric range to replace the coal-burning cook stove, a refrigerator to replace the old icebox, and a telephone. I well remember that first phone. I could pick it up, wait for the operator, say "61, please," and Grandma would pick up and say hello. I thought it amazing that I could hear her quite clearly even though she was all the way in town six or seven miles away.

My four-year-old great granddaughter, by contrast, thinks nothing of, not only talking to, but seeing her grandmother in Finland on Skype video calls. And yes, she knows how far away Finland is. She visited there with her mother last spring—a world traveler at age 3.

When my parents got their first television when they were middle-aged  (not that other people didn’t have them earlier) we were all duly impressed with the black and white moving pictures coming into our living room. Now my children and grandchildren fight to keep up with the next improvement in viewing—with ever wider, flatter, clearer, more colorful screens. How fast home movie viewing has gone from VHS to DVD to Blue Ray to—what is the latest improvement? I can’t keep up. Yet, the little ones in my family are completely comfortable with electronic tablets, computers, smart phones, and interactive electronic games, and motion sensing devices like the Wii and Kinect which they’ve operated with ease since toddlerhood, and which are being outdated as we speak.

Books, treasured because of their scarcity in my childhood, can now be acquired and read with the press of a button or two from a library of billions of titles on a device you can easily carry in your purse or pocket. 

Yes, it’s a different world with each generation. Which is best? And who’s to say? I’m glad for the chance to live in a generation with a view of both worlds and the ever-changing world around us. If I were able to choose between living in the one my father grew up in, with its hard work—and its closeness to a virtually unpolluted nature, or the one that lies ahead for my grandchildren’s families, with its smart cars that drive themselves, electronic technology I can’t even begin to imagine—and its deteriorating climate, polluted oceans, rivers, air, and land—I’d choose the one closer to nature—the one with a more intimate connection with the flora and fauna that we are fast destroying.

I mourn the loss of so much that is being destroyed by the carelessness and greed of my generation.   I’m very sorry, children.