Stroll Down Memory Lane

My last post was a popular one. People wanted to weigh in on their own particular writing habits and requirements. Or maybe they just wanted to post comments in the nude. Not sure.

But underneath all that, there was an undercurrent of fascination with old memories like manual typewriters and IBM Selectrics.

So today, I’m going to indulge in continuing that stroll down Memory Lane. This post has nothing to do with writing.  And although it does have a lot to do with who I am, why I write, and what I write, I’m not going to discuss any of that. Just share some memories of what life was like.

I was born in 1952, so I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My parents used to talk about how different things were when they were little kids, but I believe life has changed more rapidly during my lifetime than during theirs.

transistor radioI was 12 when the first Beatles hit was released.   I listened to all of the exciting new rock and roll songs on an AM Transistor Radio.  Hey, that was a breakthrough invention!  Not too long before that, radios all had tubes and weren’t portable, like the one the-beatles-she-loves-you-capitolwe had at home.  If you really liked a song, you could buy it on a 45rpm record.  Not only were there no MP3 players yet, there weren’t even CD’s yet.  Cassette players became popular just before I went to college, and I bought a nice one so I’d have music at college.

Computers?  Nobody knew about computers yet.  There were some very primitive ones in basements of government buildings, but that’s about all.  By the time I went to college in 1969, thing had really progressed in the computer department, however.  My school had a computer—yes, we had PunchedCardone computer—that took up the basement of a building.  My sophomore year I took a course in computer programming.  We wrote programs in Fortran and submitted them using decks of punch cards, 1 lines of code per card.  The entire computer had about as much power as your typical wrist watch does now.  After you submitted a job, you waited around for it to run if you had time, or just came back later to get your results on a printout.

Even more remarkable, we didn’t have calculators yet.  The first hand-held calculator came out in 1971 and cost $700.  Minimum wage was $1.25; if you had a job that paid $1000 a month you were really well off, so that was totally out of reach for a poor college kid (when I went to college, that was my goal: to end up in a job that paid $12,000 a year).  So we did all our slide rulecalculations on a slide rule.  Some of you youngsters may never have even seen a slide rule.  It’s a device for doing basically anything you can do on a calculator (if you were good), although only to 3 digits of accuracy.  I used one all through college.

When I was growing up in the south, everything was segregated.  Not only were there were separate schools for white kids and “colored” kids, there water fountainwere separate restrooms and water fountains.  It seems unbelievable to even talk about it now, but since we’d never lived any other way, we didn’t know how wrong it was.  When the civil rights movement started up, I was totally shocked.  With my upbringing, it took quite a while to even get used to the idea.

No computers also meant no play stations, Nintendos, or any electronic game of any sort.  If you wanted to play a game it was usually cards or a board game.  Mostly we played outside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was still in elementary school, we had a party telephone line.  There were 3 families on the same line.  Each of us had a different ring.  Ours was one long.  So if the phone rang two short rings, it was for somebody else and you didn’t pick it up.  If we went to make a call and somebody was talking on the line, you were polite and hung up rather than snooping.  The other thing telephones had in those days were operators.  To call anybody in town, you just had to dial 4 digits.  But if you wanted to make a long telephone operatorsdistance call—they were pretty expensive, so you didn’t do it very often—you dialed 0 and an operator answered the phone.  Then you’d tell them the number of who you wanted to call and the city they lived in, and the operator would connect you.

We got a television when I was 10.  It was black and white, and we only had a choice of 2 channels.  And here’s the craziest part: if you wanted to watch the other channel, you got up, walked over to the television, and turned a knob.  We always tried to watch the rocket launches for the space missions—it was still brand new and totally amazing.  I remember sitting around the television watching when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.  You could see the lunar landing module just sitting there for what seemed like forever, waiting for the hatch to open.

I can clearly remember the first time I flew in a commercial airplane.  It had propellers.  Jets weren’t common yet, except for trips between a few big cities.

coke machineWe lived about 2 miles outside of town, a town so small—population 463 inside the town limits—it was hardly worthy of the name.  We would walk along the roads from the school to the middle of town and pick up empty soda bottles.  Bottles could be redeemed for 2¢ each.  A Popsicle cost 5¢ (I thought it was a crime when they increased the price to 6¢!).  So if you found 3 soda bottles, you could have a Popsicle.  Then the big decision was whether to have grape or cherry, my 2 favorite flavors.  That is, until I fell in love with Fudgesicles.  Then that’s what I always got.

There was only one type of Lifesavers, the 5-fruit kind.  I remember how excited we were when they first started making them in other flavors.

Cars were big.  Which was OK, because gasoline was cheap.  I 1960_Chevy_Kingswoodremember buying gas for as little as 19.9¢/gallon.  Not only that, somebody else pumped it for you, washed your windshield, and checked your oil.  Self-service stations were far in the future—in fact, it wasn’t even legal to pump your own gasoline in most places.  And in order to get you to buy their brand of gas, service stations offered a free glass with every fill-up.

TexacoStationOutsideHmm.  I guess I could ramble on forever about this, so I guess I’d better sign off.


7 thoughts on “Stroll Down Memory Lane

  1. Don’t forget the Wang calculator — 1 only, located in the Engineering Building — for when the calculations were too tedious/long to do on the slide rule. It was, what, about the size of an iPad?

    We got a TV for Christmas when I was 8 & we too watched the rocket launches. My brother Jon, born in 1957, learned to count backwards from 10 before he learned to count forwards.

  2. My memory was that there were actually 20 Wang terminals to serve the entire university, and you could sign up for 1 hour at a time for a terminal. I thought all 20 were connected to one central brain, but Wikipedia says only 4 could be connected (I also remember them as black, but apparently not).

  3. We had a party line too, also our phone “number “started with a word. Ours was Orchard2389; after getting off the school bus everyone went to the “drug” store and tried to get a seat at the soda counter. Cokes were 5 cents; if you wanted a cherry coke the lady would put cherry syrup in it. Candy bars were 5 cents too, unless you just got the penny candy . . . we played jacks, threw wooden airplanes & carried our skate key on a string around our necks!

  4. One of these days I’ll have to pick up a slide rule and learn how to use it. After all, they put Armstrong on the moon… Computers don’t seem to have as good a track record.

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