Overlapping Journeys

For each person there’s a journey, and each journey includes technological changes. Think back. Already early cell phones look ancient. Sure, the changes we witness appear linearly, but the human experience is more a mix, creating bonds between different journeys along the way.

Growing up in 60s and 70s I remember my maternal grandparents as bent old folks. Why did they dress or wear their hair as they did? Why were they so out of touch? Or so I thought. Sadly, my contact with them was minimal and they were both gone before I was far into my 20s, so it wasn’t until later I saw them in a clearer light. Sure, I understood history, yet I little understood their time, their early journey, which I knew was sometime around the Great Depression.

Maternal grandfather and great-grandfather in Brooklyn, NY. Circa 1915-20.

Maternal grandfather and great-grandfather in Brooklyn, NY. Circa 1915-20.

Imagine my surprise many years later when examining old photos I’d never seen before. Looking back over 100 years I see my grandfather working for Thomas Edison (in Brooklyn, before he shifted his operations to New Jersey) and riding a motorcycle. Believe me, that’s easier to envision than my grandmother on a motorcycle, but there she is. And, too—oh my gosh—my great grandfather!

Like mine, their time saw great changes. Electric power and telephones invading homes and businesses. Automobiles. Airplanes. Radio. Motion pictures, though in those days they were silent. Mass media advertising was taking shape. The stock market was soaring on its way to the ’29 Crash. It was postwar America, as in post-Great War (WWI) America. Prohibition was in effect. Yet, for all that, horses were still widely used and Victorian outlooks lingered.

Maternal grandparents. Circa 1920.

Maternal grandparents, Brooklyn, NY. Circa 1920.

Overlapping eras, overlapping journeys. My grandmother once had an old Victrola Phonograph with the big horn and for years it collected dust in her attic. She threw it away before my mother could retrieve it. I recall my mother gritting her teeth at the memory. To his dying day my grandfather always sought the latest tech in his cars and my mother had similar attitudes. People used to joke about how few could program the clock on their VCRs. My mother could.

During my lifetime little has changed more than music reproduction. As a child I recall my mother’s record player, a unit that was housed in a large cabinet and took up space in the living room. My first electronic device was an AM transistor radio. I can remember listening to it at the beach on Long Island (the Rolling Stones were playing) when I was quite young in the mid 60s (my model was introduced in 1963). Thing is, I still have it. Even better, it still works.

In the early 70s came my first stereo system: turntable, receiver, and speakers. I had few singles, or 45s as they were also called. On the other hand, I had a lot of albums, as in 33 1/3 records. The first time I heard an 8-track tape it faded in and out to change tracks during a song. The horror! I never bought 8-tracks. In the late 70s I made a small investment in cassette tapes because I could play them in my first car (which also had *gasp* FM capability!). After that CDs ruled. Music that didn’t wear out! Later came the full transition to digital. These days there are over 4,000 songs on my computer and iPod and I can purchase music in seconds online. Of course, there’s also streaming and cloud storage.

My 50 year-old transistor radio and its leather case. And here I am taking a picture of it with my phone. What a journey. Photo: CA Hawthorne

My 50 year-old transistor radio and its leather case. And here I am taking a picture of it with my phone. What a journey. Photo: CA Hawthorne

For me there’s overlap tied to records. My first turntable had the ability to play 78s. They were before my time, but not before my father’s time. One day he pulled out his Big Band 78s. They were heavy—really heavy—and when they spun on the turntable I thought they’d go airborne they turned so quick. At the other end of my record journey my daughters were born during the record/CD transition. I’d intended to discard my old albums, but one daughter took them in as musical refugees.

Overlap. It’s worth thinking about when considering the world, especially if you’re a writer, for the world isn’t as neat as we sometimes like to imagine and sometimes the overlap is considerable. Try this perspective the next time you dress. That zipper? Patented in 1917 from ideas dating back to 1851. Those buttons? As fasteners they arrived in the 13th Century. How about the shoe laces on those expensive shoes you bought for basketball or running? They first started using them with eyelets back in the 12th century, but basic laces go back perhaps as far as 3500 BC. Consider the bra. The hook-and-eye closure dates back to the 14th Century. Buckles? Roman soldiers used them.

Maternal grandfather testing Ediphones. Brooklyn, NY. Circa 1920-25.

Testing Ediphones at Edison’s operations in Brooklyn, NY, circa 1920-25. The Ediphone was a forerunner of the dictation machine. The handsome young gentleman at center, foreground is my maternal grandfather. Taken from an Edison advertisement.

It all overlaps and it all overlaps over the course of each person’s journey. Let’s keep that in mind with each person we meet, whether their journey is ending or just beginning. Let’s have respect for everyone’s journey and appreciate each as we pass on our way. One day our grandchildren will chuckle at the old folks who thought their phones were so advanced, yet they drove around in vehicles that required fossil fuels. How primitive!

3 Replies to “Overlapping Journeys”

  1. Pingback: Overlapping Journeys | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. Wow Christina such a fascinating history. I love that that our time overlaps with each other. I enjoy hearing stories from people older than me and love looking at old photos like these. Truly amazing.

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