I knew Grandpa Scott as my dad’s dad, who always had farm animals in the back of his truck. He hauled cows and pigs between farmyards and livestock sale barns and brought us the occasional leftover animal, including our lamb Janie – but never the pony I secretly wanted.
In the long view, however, Charles Ralph Scott spent his almost nine decades of life on this earth between 1894 and 1983. In the course of Grandpa’s life, Orville Wright flew for 12 seconds at Kitty Hawk and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
Although our lives overlapped, Grandpa and I never discussed my trips across the Atlantic or NASA’s space exploration program. I have no way of knowing his thoughts on all that aeronautical progress. But as a child, I tracked vapor trails that crisscrossed the sky and wondered what it would be like to ride in a plane. Back then, I could not imagine that one day I would know.
My father’s life spanned a slightly longer but no less fascinating period with world wars we assigned numbers and a crippling depression sandwiched between, other regionalized conflicts between nations, and unbelievable technological changes.
As a father, soldier, farmer, and factory worker, my dad did not easily embrace progress. He had learned to make do during the dark years of the 1930’s, and the hard work required back then remained his gold standard. He drove used cars and never broke out a new billfold until the old one had completely disintegrated. As a squirmy kid at the supper table, I never really appreciated his descriptions of the far-away country that would so dominate my adult life. As for technology: he rarely talked on any kind of phone but did eventually play solitaire on the computer.
My own run of life began with old-fashioned customs on River Road, which itself was not paved until a few years after we moved there. We never locked our doors and never went on vacation, what with the cows that needed milking twice daily. We went barefoot in the summer and wore undershirts in the winter. We drank water right from the hose in the yard and savored the tiny bursts of sweetness we sucked from the clover growing along the road.
We went off to college and marriage and other states to work and raise families. We locked our doors, went on vacation – and drank bottled water. Fortunately, our lives have been meaningful and comfortable, based on the roots our parents helped us develop and the wings we figured out on our own.
Progress just seemed to happen as we lived our lives. We watched Mother use her new electric skillet and her old cast iron one side by side in the kitchen. She enjoyed the convenience of her crockpot and microwave but rued the day she could no longer hang laundry outside on the clothesline for that fresh smell she so loved.
At Concord School, the chalk-covered blackboards in the classrooms where my father, his siblings, my siblings, and I studied our lessons became the green boards installed at Graham High School, which have since been replaced with white boards and colorful markers. Report cards covered with handwritten grades and teacher gradebooks made of paper once contained information now viewable on any mobile device.
Televisions and telephones provide the clearest examples of the past giving way to the present and the future. Those bulky TV consoles dependent on roof-based antennas have morphed into devices that allow viewing anywhere. Loading up the family television for transport to the repairman is no longer necessary; nowadays a disembodied, automated voice at Spectrum sends impulses to the flat screen in my living room, an advancement that happily boggles my mind.
In the world of telephones, of course, not only the wall phones used by the Waltons – and my aunt – but also our black rotary phone on River Road have become so obsolete as to be virtually unrecognizable to the youngest of our generations.
But the combination of computers and telephones have made them more amazing than most Boomers could ever have predicted. These days we regularly use our phones for photos, videos, music, maps, alarm clocks, texting, entire books and newspapers as well as oodles of apps – whatever an app is.
The use of technology has even begun to show up at weddings. Some ministers use tablets while conducting marriage ceremonies, with modern newlyweds reading from their smartphones the vows they themselves have written.
In the later stages of our lives, the forward march of time can confound us or delight us. Some of my teachers became my colleagues and so did some of my students. Facebook patrons post photos of childhood “relics” and family events from years ago. Grandparents use FaceTime to remain recognizable to and connected with distant grandchildren in the most modern of ways.
When I see with increasing regularity artificial limbs making mobility again possible, when I watch blind children fully participating in Easter egg hunts by following beeps hidden in their eggs, when I hear a father proudly describe his daughter’s work in customizing tiny wheelchairs for children, I have hope that the shiny promises of progress will continue to be used for the betterment of civilization. In that spirit, I will continue to celebrate the roots that have made the wings of the future possible.
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.