Seventy-one and a woman who’s seen mighty change—internet, cell phones, and one step for mankind on moonscape. Veterans of WWII branded their stories on my young soul. That damned McCarthy caused me to look for communists neath my bed. Viet Nam tattooed my innocence. Patriotism, plated as political righteousness, challenged the rage against dying and peace movements—Gandhi dared Patton philosophies wrestling for ethos. No winners, just battle-worn heroes. Now drums the social-till-doomsday-shrill-media robbing weak heads of free thinking—new mind control. Fear like rain cuts rough, new gullies of hate, fear and rage. Peace lost not on a battlefield, love in surrender to hate. Godly abandoned in rallies, the modern lion’s den, truth’s death. Long serving soldiers dismissed for truth-telling. A Medal of Honor bestowed on a bigot. Romney the lone statesman. Loyal, weak servants rewarded and righteous, strong saints defiled. Labeling knowledable elitist. Labeling brown other. Labeling good hearts feeding hungry folk socialists. Villainous! Rise up you virtuous patriots. Be the strong voice of right. Rise up still Christians and claim the mantle of kindness. Rise up to speak! Rise up to vote! Rise up!
Ken and I were in the car talking rather than moving up, out and toward our hair appointments. Because part of my defensive driving plan as I age is to pull through parking spaces so I will have a clear view when I exit, we had the perfect sight line to observe a speeding car travel catawampus across the parking lot. The dark blue SUV landed cross-way over three parking spots directly across from us.
I said, “Ken, look at her!”
Ken laughed more at my reaction than at the woman clearly breaking the drive-slowly-so-you-do-not-mow-down-a-pedestrian rules.
We watched a middle-aged woman step out of her car in a black, tight, yoga-type outfit. Fancy cut-outs near the hem of the Capri-length pants pulled our eyes away from her mane flying freely.
The lady moved quickly to the island between the parking area and the main pathway leading to HEB. Ballet lessons in her past were doubtful as she teetered on tip-toe, reached up and broke off a small branch of lavender crepe myrtle.
Her beneficence self-produced enough blooms to fully fill a large vase. Smart. If the plan is to steal flowers from a park or parking lot tree, why not take a generous arrangement?
The panther smelled the crepe myrtle and her face softened. I could see the pride she felt holding her prize.
When she returned to her car, she saw us – the old people watching her illegally park, vandalize a crepe myrtle and escape with her haul.
Her smile invited me to be a coconspirator – to revere nature and beauty, to live as an adventurer, and to be empathetic to her need for smell, sight, touch, and all the sensory experiences innate in each petal. The thief and I – kindred spirits.
When I was almost 12-years-old, my family moved from the farm to an apartment adjoining the local telephone company switchboard and office. The building was tin and in the summer months our living quarters felt like a metal oven. Only the phone office had a window air conditioning unit.
Mother was the new office manager of one of the last pre-dial phone systems in the United States. She had two operators to help her six to nine hours a day. The remainder of the fifteen to eighteen hours she answered calls, “Number please.” Mother also did all the billing and cleaning. The only other employee was a part-time lineman who worked for the railroad full time.
Farm homes still had wooden, box phones and individual telephone rings made up of longs and shorts. On the farm we answered to two long rings and two short rings on line seven. The jingle alerted homemakers to their neighbor’s calls and “listening in” was a favorite pastime – a pastime all denied!
Residents were respectful of the night rule: no calls after ten o’clock or before seven in the morning. Exceptions to the rules were made for emergencies, railroader calls to report for work, and student calls for rides home following high school sporting events.
Railroaders daily called the operator and told her he was going for a haircut or to the drug store for coffee. If a call for work presented itself, the operator sent the call to the railroader’s location. Of course, there was no fee for the answering service – just the neighborly thing to do.
City dwellers in Hope, Kansas who lifted their receivers triggered a light on the switchboard. If a senior citizen’s light came on and there was no verbal response, mother would contact their family or send my father out to knock on their door.
The relationship between the phone office and the residents was civility at its best. The community supported the phone office team and the operators made every effort to do what was best for the locals. No one screamed, “Not my job description!”
There is no going back to phones with handles and mouth pieces hanging in flowered, wall-papered kitchens. There is no going back to quiet nights without texts and cyber messaging. There is no going back to the absence of phones at the dinner table. There is no going back to creative play rather than mindless games on i-phones.
How different would the world be if we still knew the phone operator by name? How different would the world be if everyone in cyberspace did not know our names? A part of us changed with each advance in communication technology. Perhaps the first step in reestablishing our civility is to recognize what we lost along the way.