Remembering Simpler Times

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by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

Last month we were in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the annual National Newspaper Association convention. With our duties taken care of for the day, we went on a tour of downtown Tulsa with an official guide.

Tulsa is known for its striking art deco architecture with many of its buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings and art deco designs were the result of tenacious competition between the oil barons who were making fortunes in the city that was known as the “Oil Capitol of the World.” Each wanted to have the tallest and most impressive building. It was the 1920s and 1930s, and Tulsa’s population was exploding.

While touring one of the art deco buildings, our guide stopped by a brass panel on a wall and picked up a telephone. It had been used to call for a special elevator to be sent down. As she held the phone she made two observations from an earlier tour she had given to a bunch of grade school kids.

First, she told them that when you hear your parents talking about “hanging up the phone,” this is what they mean – and she set it in its cradle. Second, she said, most young people today have never seen a phone with a cord.

Her observations got us thinking about how different the days in which we grew up are from those of today’s electronic-gadget-attached youth.


We remember:
Walking a quarter mile down to a mosquito-infested ravine to fill a bucket full of water from a trickle that dropped from a pipe stuck deep into the side of a steep bank of a narrow ravine. As the bucket filled with excruciating slowness, we swatted mosquitoes and danced around to keep them off. Burning weed was all around. The bucket was used to prime the pump back in the old family cottage – pour the water down the pump and pump away hoping the water would start flowing.

We remember:
The outhouse. No indoor plumbing in the old cottage. We don’t need to go into a great deal of detail; use your imagination. But you would hate to drop your cellphone down the hole.

We remember:
Party-line telephones. It was a wood telephone box on the wall with a black metal crank, a black metal speaker that looked like a miniature megaphone sticking out the front and a listening device that you picked up and placed to your ear. Our ring was two shorts and a long. But it didn’t matter what the ring sequence was, people who shared the line around the countryside would quietly pick up the receiver to listen in on the conversation others were having.

We remember:
The old wood boats. They were heavy, painted silver, and leaked. There was a product called “oakum” that you would stuff into the leaky cracks in hopes of stopping the water that seeped in and sloshed around in the bottom of the boat, soaking your shoes and anything that happen to fall off a seat.

We remember:
Summer days lying in the orchard, reading a book, staring at the sky, daydreaming. We didn’t have cellphones or electronic tablets to distract us from using our imaginations. We were alone in a way that isn’t possible for young people today.

We remember:
Swimming off the raft we’d made out of wood and empty 55-gallon barrels.
We filled three five-gallon buckets with cement with eyebolts sticking out to fasten the raft to. Each spring, someone would have to go diving in the frigid water, first to find the barrels, then to hook up the raft to them.
We spent hours on that raft playing “king of the raft” with family and friends.
Inevitably, there would be a summer storm that would rip the raft from its mooring and send it down the shore for us to hunt for once the winds subsided. We just hoped that it hadn’t taken out anyone’s dock or boatlift.
Those summer storms littered the shoreline with debris, which varied based on its intensity - we’d find fascinatingly-shaped drift wood, old bobbers with fishing line still attached, dock sections, minnow buckets, Styrofoam floating boards and more.

We remember:
As the storms approached, the sky would turn a dark purple and black with tinges of green at times. When the lake would turn a pale green, we knew it would be a particularly bad storm.
We were now in our own cottage. It was built from reclaimed wood by my father, grandfather, brothers, uncles and cousins. It had a high peak and no insulation or inside finishing wood or sheetrock. It wasn’t exactly sturdy. During one particularly bad storm, our father and older brothers were bracing the west wall with timbers.
When the storms came after sunset, we would sit outside looking across the lake as lightening streaked across the sky.

We remember:
Steamy hot nights lying in bed in our open loft, fans blowing in a feeble attempt to create some degree of comfort. Down below, our father, grandfather, uncles and older cousins would be arguing politics, religion, social issues, and philosophizing about life in general. It was a fascinating conversation to fall asleep to.

We remember the fireflies.
As children we would chase the elusive fireflies as they glided through the night. Sometimes we would capture them and put them in a jar, but they never seemed quite as bright encased in the glass prison. Today, there are far fewer fireflies because their habitat is being wiped out.


These are a few of the memories we have growing up as a child on Lake Minnewaska. We wonder how many of these memories would have been significantly dulled, or missed, if our world had been full of electronic gadgets.

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