|Things We Now Can't Live Without
by Judith Grant
Submitted on March 1, 2005
My thirteen-year-old nephew exclaimed
in disbelief when I told him that I had grown up without a television.
"So, what did you watch?"
"We watched the trees on the hillside," I said,
repeating the words my father used whenever we asked him to take
us to the shop in the square to watch TV.
"Man, I feel your pain," my nephew responded in a voice that really meant, "Growing
up without a TV is totally incomprehensible. I wouldn't
even try to imagine it."
"On moonlit nights," I continued, "we sat beneath
the stars and sang folk songs. My mother would also teach us Bible
verses and prayers and tell us stories. Ever heard of duppy stories?"
"Mommy is always telling us all kinds of things that she did when she was a kid. She said you all didn't
go to the movie theater, either," he proclaimed in his best Bahamian accent.
I gave a healthy laugh at this and reflected on the near obscurity of my childhood experiences
of the not-so-long-ago '70s in St. Ann, Jamaica. Yes, we had a transistor radio as well as a record changer,
which was eventually replaced by an eight-track tape player as we progressed technologically.
And speaking of technology, in a recent exchange
with my brother in Jamaica, we made fun of the two cell phones he
has-one for making calls and the other for receiving. An economical
tactic, he said. "What did people used to do without cell phones?" he
"Write letters," I said, feeling
the need to enlighten my younger brother on the good old
days when we had more time for each other, when we didn't
have to juggle between cell phones and land phones, e-mails,
and remote control – technological advances that were meant
to make our lives less complicated.
My brother replied, "I remember when Mama would
receive a letter from our eldest sister, who lived in Kingston at the
time, a whole month in advance, announcing her planned visit to us
in the country."
"Back then , one month seemed like such a long time. You went to sleep waiting and woke
up still waiting, until eventually you knew it was going to be any day now as Mama cleaned
and dusted and...hey, by that time we were glad–" He interrupted himself.
"Kenny [a brother who also lived in Kingston] used to send telegrams to say he was coming
on such-and-such a date; and man, you waited and waited, and when the time passed, you saw
postman come with another telegram. And that time passed again, and then one day, without warning,
he would show up.... Hold on one minute," he said in one swift breath. "Hello, whaa gwaan? Mi deh
pon a overseas call..." I heard him say in the background.
I was taken to moments in the past when my mother ironed using the self-heater; it was a large iron
that you opened at the top so you could insert a piece of coal in it. You then lit it and closed the top, securing it
with a catch. I truly thought it was a revolution. If we used coals that were too small, they
cooled too quickly. Even when you cleaned the iron with yellow banana leaves, you had to be an expert to keep a white school blouse from smudging.
The gas range and electric stove were welcome
conveniences, but they could never reproduce the unique flavor of the
cumbersome "coal pot." Roast beef, roast pork, fried chicken...often
by the light of a Tilley lamp.
Since that conversation with my brother, I've had to get used to my stepmother telephoning my
dad in the garden to tell him that breakfast was ready. I've also had to pick up the languages
of DVDs, plasma TVs, MP3s, and some others that made me think that an expandable chip should be
installed in my brain so that I could increase my memory. Or maybe they could delete yesterday's
information that had already become obsolete today. But the memories of the nights under the stars, singing folk
songs with my mother and siblings, are files that I would want to keep in the ready-to-be-accessed file
at any time. Until then–excuse me a moment–that's my digital organizer reminding me that my
favorite TV program is scheduled to start in two minutes.