Sunday, April 25, 2010

Entering Modernity

My parents lived for a long time without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing and got along just fine. One of my earliest memories is the great event of electric lights coming to our home. My brother just older than I, always a quick wit, quoted the Bible when the lights came on: “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.”
He had a way with Bible verses. In the little country church my family attended, children were supposed to memorize an assigned verse during the week and they were brought forward in the Sunday school assembly to recite it. Once my brother’s assigned verse was, “I was glad when the said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” His rendition of the scripture provoked a lot of mirth in that solemn assembly. It was, “I was glad when the told me to get under the church house.” My brother immensely enjoyed having entertained so well.
The very next Sunday, the verse was a much simpler one. Maybe the Sunday school teacher wanted to avoid any more comedy, so she picked a short verse. Her plan didn‘t work. The verse was, “We are helpers.” Of course, my brother’s version was, “We are heifers,” and, much to the chagrin to the serious-minded teacher, the congregation howled and another mischievous child mooed.
It was not long after we got electricity on the farm that we moved to the city. There, we had all the modern conveniences. I recall being afraid of the bathtub. I had always bathed in a number two washtub that, in the winter time at least, would require Mother’s regular addition of boiling water to the tepid contents. The reason that new fangled bathtub was so frightening was that when you pulled the plug, it made a gurgling whirlpool that, in my mind, at least, could suck you under.
I am sure Mother felt very smug and sophisticated in our new place with all the amenities. I remember going with her to the Ma and Pa Kettle movies. One of the series of films was about the time Pa won some kind of contest and was awarded a new home with all the modern conveniences. They didn’t know how anything worked and the humor came from their superimposition of their old country ways onto the latest technology. I don’t think I ever heard Mother laugh any louder than she did at that movie. Sure, she was laughing at the characters on the screen, but she was also laughing at herself--at all of us.
Even though we were living a comfortable life in town, Mother held onto the old farm place and rented it out for a little bit of nothing. When she remarried, my new stepfather, a carpenter by trade, saw the place as a potential getaway only 50 miles to the south. After they got rid of the renters, Pop really fixed the old place up, adding plumbing, a well pump and other needful accouterments. Our family spent many happy weekends down at the farm. We even had a television set there. Let there be “I Love Lucy” and there was “I Love Lucy.”
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

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