The Eighty-Third Chart

May 24, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Two weeks ago in reminiscence of the holidays, the girls decided they wanted to watch “The Polar Express” that we had saved for them on our DVR.

About two-thirds of the way through the movie, the main character and two of the other children from the train work their way through the workshop of Santa’s elves.  The needle on a record player has snagged within a particular groove and has spent several minutes replaying the same half line of a Christmas song.  The children examine the record player for a minute before moving on to the next part of their adventure.

I turned to Six and asked her, “[Six,] do you know what that is?”

She shook her head, and her father and I explained record players.  She nodded, only half interested, and scampered to sit next to her sister on a different sofa.

“Of course, a CD player works on the same concept,” I told my husband, “except that a laser is doing all the hard work.”

The kids didn’t pay much attention to that, but I began thinking about all the things from my own childhood that have become obsolete.  The things that my children will never enjoy or have to wrestle with.  So I thought I’d take this opportunity to travel down Memory Lane a little bit.  Don’t be afraid to holler if you remember any of these things and/or want to share some of your own.  Do you all remember…?

1. Rewinding, fast forwarding, and tracking the picture on a video cassette in a VCR?—My children have become experts at operating the DVR.  With the exception of actually scrolling through the recorded programs, they know how to start, stop, and pause programs if they need to take a bathroom break or want a snack.  But they’ve never had the immense challenge of fast forwarding a tape and guessing at the approximate correct spot where it needs to stop.  Or watching the counter numbers and guessing from them.  And remember having to use the Tracking dial on a VCR to make sure the picture was free of those funny static lines?  Remember turning it ever so slowly so that the lines would disappear?  And then jumping back from the VCR so that the dial wouldn’t move and the static wouldn’t come back?

2. Pulling the tape out of a finicky audiocassette after it gets tangled in the tape player and gently untangling it?—It’s a real art, I must admit, and I’ve spent several minutes at a time poking at the tape through its plastic casing with a pencil to tease it out.  The key, of course, was to pull out the tape and not snap it.  Snapping it meant using Scotch tape in a pinch for repairs, and then your song would have a blank space in it when it would play back.  But doing something so painstaking required a lot of patience, something I still draw upon today when I have to undo knots in ribbons and belts.

3. Spending Saturday mornings with the likes of “The Muppet Babies,” “Rainbow Brite,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “The Smurfs,” and—come on, you all know you had a crush on Zack Morris—“Saved by the Bell”?—I can remember spending most of my weekend mornings getting up earlier than my parents to watch my favorite shows.  Everyone I knew watched the same ones.  We didn’t have too many choices, because television programming wasn’t so fragmented in those days.  I enjoyed having this facet of my weekend in common with my friends, something that bound us during the days at school.  I remember making a mad dash to the kitchen during commercials to brush my teeth and also not caring much about breakfast.  The best thing?  My parents didn’t have to worry about the commercials.  Not like today, where a marathon of something as tame as “The Cosby Show” requires vigilant viewing by one of the adults in our home because we need to mute the advertisements.

4. Pining over a Cabbage Patch Kid?  Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Amazon and what it’s done for making shopping easy.  But in some ways it’s made shopping too easy.  Have you ever gone to the mall with the intention of buying something and not found it?  What’s usually your response?  “I’ll just get it on Amazon/other online store.”  Gone are the days when stores would sell out of coveted items and kids had to wait weeks—sometimes even months—to get what they wanted, a la the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of the 1980s.  Everyone wanted one; some kids were lucky enough to get them.  The rest of us made do with other dolls that we claimed looked like the Cabbage Patch Kids, or we received other 1980s hallmarks that were less popular (like the Hugga Bunch dolls; I still have mine, a gift to me from my parents when my sister made her appearance in the world.)  We all envied the Cabbage Patch Kids and other popular toys as we’d walk by toy stores, and we’d enjoy the “misery” of not having them.

5. Reading the comic strips in the newspapers?  When I was young my family had a Sunday morning ritual: we’d take apart our local newspaper (pretty thick in those days) and share it and read it and enjoy it as we all sat around together.  My sister and I would vie for the comics section, and we’d split our time between that and various other circulars.  I used to love reading the comics on weekdays and Saturdays too, but Sundays were the best.  The comics section would come in color and was its own little newspaper.  I’d follow with great diligence the antics of “Family Circus” or the people in “For Better or for Worse.”  And who can forget “Calvin and Hobbes”?  But do people even read the comics anymore?

I wonder if I sound like an old person when I say I felt like my childhood was a simpler time compared to today’s world.  No cyber bullying.  No weird stories about women birthing octuplets just to get some attention.  No questioning whether you were safe flying on a plane or whether that plane was headed for a skyscraper today.

I’m not so naïve to think that we didn’t have problems in our world when I was young.  They were just a different set of problems with a different set of criteria to fix them.  And while technology has, in many ways, made our world a more fascinating place and smaller—so that people from all corners of our globe and all walks of life can reach one another easily—it has brought with it a new set of problems requiring a new set of required solutions.

It’s a paradox, but then so many other things in life are a paradox.  I’m sure, about 15 years from now, I’ll hear my own children talk about when they were young and the things that have become obsolete (or just nearly so) and I wonder, when I share my own experiences, if I’ll sound like someone from a different millennium or a different century—oh, but wait, I am. :>  Regardless, it’ll be fun to hear their own perspectives on the things they miss from their childhoods.

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