Sunday, March 8, 2015

How quickly the past becomes quaint

I teach 4th grade, and I find that I have to explain things from the past more and more. For example, long distance telephone calls. A lesson on probability in our math book asks about the chances of getting a busy signal while making a long distance phone call. Of course, they don't know what a busy signal is either. I tell about growing up away from my extended family -- they all lived in either Seattle or western Minnesota -- and that we only called them twice a year because it was so expensive. And when we did call, everybody got on the phone, one at a time, to say hello. My cousin Gail in Seattle, who was about 10 years older than me, always asked my sister and me, "What are you doing?" And we would inevitably answer, "Talking on the phone." We weren't being snotty; it was just that calling Seattle was what we were doing. Anything else was secondary.

Telegrams! I do a read-aloud that has telegrams as sort of an important part of the plot. The book is The Return of the Twelves, by Pauline Clarke, a British author. One of the characters is having surreptitious communication with a professor in America, by telegram. Since it takes place in a small town, everybody finds out about the telegrams. (I highly recommend the book. It's about a 9 year old boy in England who discovers a set a wooden soldiers that may have belonged to the Bronte children. He also discovers that they are alive!)

Records (LPs) are perhaps a little more familiar to some of my students. They describe them as odd flat, circular objects, as if they arrived from another planet. But the familiar expression, "he sounds like a broken record," falls on deaf ears. My daughter, who loves the TV show House, thought LP meant lumbar puncture when she heard her father and me talking.

I remember how quaint and faraway my mother's Depression-era childhood sounded from her stories of the iceman delivering ice, harvest time on the farm, playing kitten ball (whatever that is!) Now my stories sound the same way to my own children, and even more to to my students. They don't know a world without computers, smart phones, and video games. I'm actually sorry for them. Thank what they're missing -- the pleasure of playing in a puddle, riding your bike all over your neighborhood, being bored and having to read a book, or make up a game!

No doubt my 4th graders will someday be explaining their quaint smart phones to incredulous grandchildren. Maybe by then kids will be playing in the mud again.


  1. Your slice makes me realize that my childhood sounds like the olden days to my students (I'm 45)! I wish our students had more time to be bored - they would have a chance to be more creative!

  2. I totally agree! When you're bored you are forced to be creative and make your own fun.

  3. Gee - I love your slice but I feel SO old as I read it.....I remember dial-up phones....sigh and telegrams!