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Technology

Portable record player Technology has become a household word in my lifetime. But what exactly is it? Gadget. Battery operated. Electronic. Printed circuits. But even the old table-top tube radio under my bookcase is a form of technology, I guess. It still worked the last time I plugged it in, bringing in stations from far reaches that the newer models don't get.

A crystal radio kept me company at night, after bedtime but before sleep in the 1950's. The Grand Old Opry, the Shadow Knows, quite a variety of radio programs entertained me as I dozed off, the little glass earpiece eventually falling out to get lost in the bedcovers.

The only problem with that little radio was the antenna, a long, thin wire that had to run across the wall and dangle out of the bedroom window in order for me to receive those wonderful shows. I couldn't tuck the radio into my pocket when I left the house, the antenna wouldn't pick anything up wound up in a ball around the tiny crystal receiver.

Another technological wonder was the portable record player I got for Christmas in 1953. The hard green plastic cover was nearly indestructable, designed with a kid in mind I'm sure. The case opened like a suitcase, the top lifting off to lay back flat on the table top. Only 45 sized records would play on it and you couldn't stack records like you could on my parents hi-fi stereo in the living room. (That one was off-limits to my brother and me for several years, because the needles were expensive and the changer mechanism too delicate for our young fingers.) But to have my very own record player! I could listen to my heart's content, even if I did have to flip the records over by hand. Gene Autry's "I Saw Mommie Kissing Santa Claus" and Burl Ives' "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" probably drove my parents nuts that year, but I'll never forget those songs.

When televisions came out in Florence, it took a while for people to invest in their own set. Maybe they felt like it was just a passing fad, or maybe the sets were too costly. In any case, my family occasionally joined several others on the bleachers in front of Finklea's store on summer evenings to watch the shows.

Finally in the middle 1950's our household acquired our very own black and white floor model, a dark wood Magnavox that occupied a place of importance in the living room. Tall rabbit ears perched atop the set, adjusted by daddy to pick up the clearest picture possible every evening. Phil Silvers' raucous voice as Sergeant Bilko kept us all in stitches, and especially my dad. It hadn't been that long ago that he himself was an Army Air Force sergeant so I guess that explained it.

Your Hit Parade became one of our family favorites, with Gisele McKenzie and all the other cast members counting down the most popular songs of the week. Another favorite was I Love Lucy. I still get fresh laughs out of Lucy and Ethel Mertz, even with all those programs imprinted in the back of my brain somewhere. With the technology available over the internet these days, I can still watch the original shows right on my computer screen! Just do a Google search for "Your Hit Parade television 1950s" and see what I mean.

In the 1950's I learned to sew in my Poynor Junior High home economics class. At home I used a Singer peddle-operated sewing machine, in itself a fascinating piece of technology. Of course, not having any motor, electronics or tubes, it may not officially qualify. But push the foot peddle forward and the needle goes up. Push it again and the needle comes down. As the needle goes through the fabric, the threads lock themselves together. How do they do that?

Since daddy was a sewing machine technician for Sears, our back porch and dining room usually had one or two machines in for repair or transformation. That is, daddy would convert the peddle operation over to a machine operation. You still had a foot peddle but it was much smaller. Also, it didn't go forward and back. You just mashed down on it like you would a car gas peddle and the motor made the needle go up and down, much faster than before. Neat, huh. Saves wear and tear on the feet and calf muscles and you can get much more stitching done in the same length of time. Those old fashioned peddle machines that weren't converted became collector's items over the years, serving as end tables in the bedroom or living room.

The first typewriter I used was a standard Remington. You know what I mean by standard? Not motorized. It took strong fingers to type a letter on one of those things. Not having studied typing in high school, I taught myself to type with a little booklet I bought at the H&S Bookstore in downtown Florence. It was a matter of learning which fingers should strike which keys on the QWERTY keyboard, practicing "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country," over and over.

I had taken a job where I needed to type, so practice I did. I became quite good at it, and it helps that keyboards haven't changed the location of the letters much over the years. The biggest improvement in technology in my life wasn't when computers came along, it was when typewriters got electric motors! Or maybe correction tape...

My only problem with typing back then is a problem I still have today. If I have been playing the piano I can't immediately come to the computer keyboard and type worth a hoot my fingers want to play the words in chords! No joke. First I have to read a magazine, drink a cup of coffee or something and let my fingers make the switch in their little synapses somehow. Weird.

Well, technology has developed, improved and advanced at a tremendous pace since then. In July 1969 my children and I watched the first manned moon landing on television, hearing Neil Armstrong's memorable words "One small step..." in the middle of the night. On nine-eleven I watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Tower, live and in color on Good Morning America. Watching a war on television has become routine, something my parents would never have imagined, would never have wanted to watch.

Nowadays folks drive down the street or walk through the mall listening to their ipod or chatting on their cellphone with a little piece of plastic stuck in their ear. Every time I see one it brings back memories and I think to myself again, the world has sure come a long, long way since the days of my little crystal radio.


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