A Japanese electronics company made the world’s last VCR at the end of July. The manufacturer discontinued the big, clunky videocassette recorders because required parts had become scarce and expensive.
For me, the VCR was one of the best inventions ever. Education majors at Otterbein had to demonstrate the ability to thread a film projector, a requirement I barely met. In my early teaching years, this audiovisual aid seldom seemed worth the effort – anyway, there were few useful films available.
Then VCR’s burst onto the scene in the mid 70’s: insert a VHS tape into the machine connected to a TV, and it was movie magic for the classroom. Graham teachers signed up on the library clipboard to have a VCR/TV setup delivered right to their classrooms.
Now this marvelous machine has gone by the wayside, as have telephone booths and payphones. People show me pictures of their grandkids on tablets, with instructions to slide to the next photo. And I have every intention of keeping my little spiral book filled with phone numbers and addresses, all in my own handwriting.
There are those who treasure objects from years long past. My father found items most people consider basic necessities of modern life unnecessarily new-fangled. He delighted in asking us to identify some rusty, vintage do-hickey from a box of assorted do-hickeys he had bought at an auction.
My brother has carried on my father’s keen interest in old things with his own collection of antique tractors and tractor club membership, and one sister displays similar tendencies by frequently attending auctions. She recently purchased a few items at The World’s Longest Yard Sale – and sent me a picture of an old-fashioned meat grinder collection she saw there.
Beginnings and endings are not relegated only to outdated and updated objects. Old and new concepts enter and exit our lives, too.
As a kid, I knew the word “apartment” but knew no apartment dwellers. Oh, Great-Grandma Geuy lived in the rooms over the greenhouse in St. Paris – technically an apartment, I suppose.
But most families I knew lived on farms or in houses in town. There were apartment buildings on TV, but they were in New York City. It amazes me, then, that most of us kids eventually left our old family farmhouses to live for at least a while in one of those places that had always seemed so distantly cosmopolitan.
During those early days, I also did not know many mothers who worked outside the home. Most of my cousins and friends grew up as I did – with our mothers at home all day organizing the household.
But during my junior year, Mother went to work as an aide at the county nursing home. I understood that family finances were strained, but I could never quite shake that empty feeling of piling off the bus and rushing to recount the day’s events to Mother, who was no longer there in the kitchen. My sisters, my teaching colleagues, and women the world over, however, have masterfully accomplished what began for me in high school as a change to life as I knew it.
I became aware of a disturbing new concept at the end of the second grade. Mothers were manning the cafeteria line at the last-day-of-school-potluck when one of them quietly mentioned “divorce.” It still boggles my mind that I was seven years old before I ever heard the word, let alone understood its meaning. As a teacher, I never quite adjusted to student references to their mothers’ boyfriends.
As promised, I have been watching the Olympics. The world of athletics is all about “out with old and in with the new.” Swimmers have been stroking away well in front of that yellow line signifying the world record. And Simone Biles is being heralded as the “best gymnast of all time” after her multiple twists and flips atop the balance beam, across the exercise floor, and off the vaulting table.
I vaguely remember Roger Bannister running his amazing under-four-minute-mile in the mid 1950’s; sixteen seconds or so have since been shaved from that time. Figure skater Dick Button shook up the skating world with the first double axel jump in 1948. Nowadays skaters fling themselves into the air and spin around four times before landing. Almost every sports record will be broken sometime – such is the nature of competition.
Some old things simply have new names. Modern kids often refer to chapter books. In my earlier days we also differentiated between primary picture books and the thicker intermediate books, which we referred to as “fat books.” I clearly remember the first “fat book” I ever brought home from the library: Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch by Alice Hegan Rice – it had a red cover.
I really do not remember calling denim pants anything but “overalls” until they all became “jeans” sometime in the ‘80s. And I am still not sure when the “funny papers” of my youth became the comics of today.
Somewhere along life’s continuum of time, cellphones will become vintage do-hickeys in a box. Runners will eliminate even more seconds from the mile record, and skaters will spin five or six times before landing. Our level of fascination with and acceptance of these transitions – and many others – will depend on where we are on our own timelines of life.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.