Now and Then

Several times a day I am reminded of the progress that has been made in our everyday living.  It would take several volumes to write about improvements that have developed in my eighty-seven years but I was unaware of their happening when they occurred.  I feel that I live better than most of the kings of old and without power and authority to make it so.

We had only two paved streets in the small town in Oklahoma that I call home.  I remember seeing a few horse drawn wagons and a couple or so horse drawn carriages.  There would sometimes be a few blanket Indians in town doing their shopping.  Once a bi-plane landed in a field near downtown.  I had never seen an airplane and joined the gathering crowd.  The pilot offered rides for a small price.  I could not ride but rushed home to tell my parents that I had seen my first airplane..

Progress is a great thing.  Our lives are improved but change often looses something of the human element.  I remember the grace and charm of my early years and wonder if today’s generation will look back on these years as antiquated but joyful.

There is nothing in today’s world that I appreciate more than getting out of bed in the morning to the comfort resulting from central heating and air-conditioning.  In my early years, we always had a wood or coal burning cast-iron pot bellied stove in the front room.  By morning the fire was out and the heat was gone.  Daddy would get up early and build a fire.  We would later get out of bed, dress quickly and rush to the heat of that stove.  I still dress immediately before I go around the house.

Even after we had and open gas fire to replace the old stove. There would be no fire in the house at night.  We would go through the same procedure about getting up but the fire would be warm quicker.

There was no insulation in our houses and in the summertime, we would sit outside under a giant hackberry tree until after dark when the mosquitos started swarming around us.  It would be hard to go to sleep in the heat of the house even with the windows open.  Central heat and air has made our lives delightful.

As in all of the middle class homes of that day, we had a large console radio in our living room, which we called our front room.  At noon, we would listen to the news and cattle market quotes.  In the evening, we would gather around the radio in chairs and on the floor listening to comedies and dramas and let our imaginations run wild.  All of us roared at the comedy of Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Fibber McGee, Eddie Cantor, and many others.  We wouldn’t miss “One Mans’ Family to check on the activities of the Barbour family in San Francisco.  First Nighter and Lux Theater were also dramas we would not miss.  After school, I listened to kid’s programs.

I have my grandparents’ old radio and two earphones purchased in 1920.  It is in a wooden box and was called a “Westinghouse Radio Apparatus”.

Radio

My grandparents’ old radio and two earphones purchased in 1920, called a “Westinghouse Radio Apparatus”.

In the early 1950’s, we started watching television.  It had a ten-inch screen and required a lot of adjustments and antenna maneuvering. About the time it would be working right, a tube would burn out and we would have to buy a replacement tube.  The picture was never clear.  Sometimes, we would have to get on top of the roof to adjust the outside antenna.

Many of the shows we watched were ones we listened to on the radio but now we didn’t need to use as much imagination.  We got our exercise by getting up often to adjust the picture or change the station.  For a long time, depending on where we were, there would be only two or three stations and the time they were on air was limited.

Now most families have several TV sets.  Some have large screens and all are in color.  The pictures are as clear as a good photograph and no adjustments are necessary.  We have a choice of many, many stations.  There are no adjustments to make and we can change stations without getting out of our chair. The outreach of television is now worldwide.  Today, I watched the announcement from Rome of the new pope within the comforts of home and could see much better than the crowds standing in the rain watching in person.

The news and entertainment of the world can now be received on phones that people carry around in their pockets.  Pictures can be taken with these phones and sent around the world in a few seconds. There is talk of these phones’ being reduced in size to that of a wristwatch.  Such a watch was used by the comic strip character Dick Tracy many years ago and we thought it to be unbelievable.

We had telephones when I was a kid.  When I was very young I learned to lift the receiver and twist the cranking handle.  A lady we called “Central” would speak to me and say “Number Please”.  I would tell her that I wanted to talk to my daddy.  She would trace him down and would talk to him.

Some people who lived in the country were lucky to have a phone but it would be a party line phone,  On these phones, one had to be careful what they said because someone might be listening and your conversation could be told all through the community.  The telephone numbering system was very simple.  Our number was 169 and Grandmother’s was 95.  I remember Mother’s calling her beauty shop by asking for number 22.   For a long distance call, we would tell Central whom we wanted to talk to and the city where he lived.  Sometime later, the phone would ring and we could talk to the person we asked for.

Central was very important to our community.  She had control of the siren which was blown when she was called about a fire or a threatening tornado.  A different number of blasts of the siren were given for fires than tornados.  If the warning was for a fire, the volunteer firemen would report to the firehouse.  If it was for a tornado we were warned to seek shelter.

Central would also blow the siren at noon each workday to advise people that it was time for lunch.  Nettie was the daytime chief operator and Pearl had that position at night.  They were very important to important to us and were everybody’s friend.  These days, when I am trying to get information over the telephone, I sometimes have trouble finding the correct number and when the call is completed, I am likely to talk to someone in China or the Philippines whom I cannot understand.

One of the greatest changes that people my age have seen is the processing and transportation of food.  The availability of fruits and vegetables was seasonable except for canned goods.  We either grew our own or it was hauled in by truck from nearby areas.  Mother and grandmother would spend a lot of their summer canning food that was available.  These glass jars of food were placed in a dark closet under the stairway and brought out to grace our table in the winter months.  One of my favorites was the pickled peaches.

When I was in high school during WWII, freezing lockers were introduced to my hometown.  Daddy would buy a quarter of beef, have it butchered and wrapped in meal- sized portions.  Fruits and vegetables were not frozen but canned as usual.

Now we rely on frozen foods to enhance our diets everyday as well as fresh foods which are flown from all over the world to our markets.  I remember that not long before Mother died in 1987 when she expressed a desire for canteloupe.  This was something that I felt would be impossible to find out of season in the small town where she lived.  Sure enough, I found canteloupe in a nearby town.  It was wonderful to see her smile on her face when we served the melon to her.  What a wonderful change this has been.

There have been numerous changes in all phases of life for which I will not try and write about at this time.  Everyone my age knows about them.

Another change in my life is in my religious beliefs, feelings and attitudes.  Some are the result of changes in the Methodist Church practices but the most I like to think are from enlightenment in my thought and judgment.  I do not follow shifts in the church discipline, but I do notice differences in its social actions and Sunday service as well as the general attitude of the congregation.  I remember the joining of the north and south churches and the uniting with the United Bretheren to form the United Methodist Church.

Fred Venable was our minister in the 1970’s.  I remembering his telling us that if we had been a church going Christian for forty years that the hardest thing for us to do now is to be a Christian.  This has required a lot of thought and refining in my mind.

In the church of my youth there were no women ministers.  This has certainly changed.  During my high school days I attended a summer camp.  One of the leaders was Rev. Newel Crain who had been the minister for a fairly large church.  Rev. Crain had recently gotten divorced so he could no longer be assigned to lead a church.

Dancing was not considered appropriate for members of our church.  Sometimes folk dancing was allowed at youth church camps.  Dancing is no longer forbidden.  The drinking of alcohol was forbidden.  Once we were asked to sign a pledge that we would never drink alcoholic beverages.  A big issue was not made of it; however I did not sign the pledge.  I believe that most Methodists now treat drinking like many activities, they should only be done in moderation.

Once or twice a year, an evangelist would be invited to hold a meeting for a week.  Such preachers would often preach “fire and damnation”.  In the summertime, the meetings were usually held in a tent on the church grounds.  I remember one such meeting when the evangelist wore cowboy clothing and we called him the “cowboy preacher”.  He brought a few new members to the church but disturbed many of the then current members.  I particularly remember him since I was humiliated as the result of his questioning.   He walked up and down the aisles asking individuals if they were Christians.

When he came to a group of us young boys, he asked if their mothers played cards.  I just lowered my head but one of the others who I didn’t think very bright pointed to me and loudly proclaimed that my mother played cards.  I felt like crawling under my chair.  The cowboy preacher went on his way and made no further issue of it.

I feel that we Methodists are less judgmental than in the past.  Some others actions may be against our beliefs but we try to understand the reason for their actions and let God make the judgment.  We accept children born out of wedlock, unwed mothers and fathers as well as homosexuals.  We have pity and sorrow for those who have ruined their lives with alcohol and other mind-altering substances.   We try and help these people and realize that we are all sinners.

It is difficult not to judge persons who have caused death and destruction.  I recently heard a speaker who asked us the question “Will you see Hitler in heaven”? That question will make you stop and think and I am still thinking.  The judgment of these humans is left to God but it difficult for me to believe that I might see them in heaven.  I hope I make it there to find out.

As you see, I have along way to go in my religious life.

We all could go on and on about changes we have seen but I must stop now.

Jim Pershall

March 2013

 

POST SCRIPT:

In its infancy, TV stations programming was rather unsophisticated and many unexpected and often amusing incidents happened.  I will relate two such incidents

I

Station WKY in Oklahoma City had a kids program called something like “Cowboy Bob”.  Cowboy Bob would appear in his cowboy hat and clothes and gather a group of twenty-five or so youngsters around him.  He would tell western tales and try to entice the kids to talk about their adventures.

One afternoon, a couple of the boys in the back of the gathering started snickering.  The snickering did not stop so Cowboy Bob asked them what was they were laughing about.  They refused to tell him but laughed even louder. Cowboy Bob persisted and one of the boys meekly said “Oscar Farted”.

As you would expect, all of the workers on the set, the parents present, and all of the children roared with laughter.  In a few minutes, the noise had not subsided and the screen went dark.  I don’t know how long it took for programming returned but it did not return to “Cowboy Bob”.

II

In its infancy, Station KSWO in Lawton, Oklahoma was not a part of a network and was on the air only six to eight hours a day.  All of the programming was local and much of the time was filled with interviews of personalities from the surrounding area.

One such program was an interview of a rancher and well-known bootlegger who lived near the Wichita Mountains no far from my hometown of Snyder.  He was known in the community as Uncle Bunch Fullingam.

Both Mr. and Mrs.  Fullingham lived to a few years past one hundred years of age.  Uncle Bunch was probably 102 or so at the time of the interview.  They had brought their two children and all of their worldly goods from the Midwest to Southwestern Oklahoma in a covered Wagon around 1900.

The conversation was going very well when the interviewer asked the question “Do you still have anything that you brought with you in that long wagon ride”.  Uncle Bunch immediately replied clearly and distinctly “Well, on that trip, my only possessions were a fiddle and a ‘hard on’.  I still have the fiddle”.

The screen went black at once.  The station did not return to the air until late the next afternoon.

JIM PERSHALL

March 2013