Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back in the Olden Days...

“Back in the olden days,” I used to say to my nephews and nieces… and so began my story. It started out as tongue in cheek. Maybe they’d expressed surprise at one of our old-fashioned household gadgets, or lost the remote control. “Back in the olden days,” I’d say, “we used to have a TV with buttons on it. We would get up and walk over to it and push a button. Then the picture would appear and we could watch TV.” I’d also act as interpreter for one of Mom’s stories, since they predated mine by a good thirty years; but I’d heard them often, and could tell the kids what she meant. Her stories usually started out, “Back in them days,” or “Back when we lived on the mountain…” Sand Mountain, Alabama, really did seem like an olden culture, of a faraway kind that Rod Serling might have transported us to. So, when Mom started talking, I'd butt in with, “That’s another name for a mule,” or “it’s a coal-burning stove,” to help the kids when they got that distant, puzzled look. My poor mother is over eighty now, and life in the olden days really does seem olden now. Technology has passed her by, and nothing irritates her more than “them kids a-tweetin’ on their Twitters” all the time. One day, in the middle of my olden-day story, I realized that “olden days” was no longer ironic. My explanation of a thing had entailed two or three other definitions to back up the original one. This was many years after the date that my nephew had looked at me in surprise and said, “They had record players back then?!” (“Yes,” I had explained. “We used dinosaur teeth for the needles.”) I had not had to explain to him what a record player was, or a needle. We still had that frame of reference in common. My only consolation in knowing that I had crossed over some threshold into the truly “olden days,” was that my nieces were now carrying on the tradition. One day my 25-year-old niece came in looking bewildered. “You’ll never guess what my kids never heard of!” (talking about her classroom). That’s the day she began her first story with, “Back in the olden days…”