The First 100 Years

[This guest blog is an essay by my good friend Chris (you remember Chris?)]

The first 100 years is the hardest, I think.

Looking backward through the lens of all your most trivial possessions—this essential oil from the 1970’s—nobody makes this sort of thing anymore. Look at that hand-typed label.  Smell the subtleties, still caught inside this vial.
Nowadays if you try to buy a fragrance oil with this name you get a paltry counterfeit.

And don’t even get me started about the real perfume houses and the gems they used to make, which _maybe_ you could find, used, on ebay, for more money than the many hundreds they cost you already in the 1980’s.

Looking back at this kerosene lantern—nowadays nobody even dreams of trying to camp with that old biohazard!  For eight bucks, you can buy a realistic looking kerosene-lantern-shaped object loaded with LED lights, running on batteries that easily last all night, never presenting a fire hazard.  You don’t have to pump it to pressurize the fuel.  You don’t have to know the dark secrets of burning the new mantle down to ash first, if you’ve had to replace it because it got bumped.

Those glorious, circular, wicked Aladdin lamps…hard to get…THOSE lamps cost hundreds of dollars.  The last time I saw one, I saw three…all brass polished and silver.  Their owners had lived by them while homesteading in Alaska for two decades.  They still looked new.   I pull the little LED flashlight from my pocket—cost me $5.

The first 100 years is the hardest because you are still rather moored to your technology, and nostalgia is still possible.

This Swiss Army knife-like phone in my pocket—what DOESN’T it do?
I still have my real Swiss Army knife…with 22 functions, including a magnifying glass. (“In case I needed to start a fire with no matches,” I told myself the day I bought it.)  That princely $40 I spent as a teen (investing in the best, following the wisdom of adults who had their own first 100 years from which to advise me), would be like spending $250 today.  Good knives, bright lenses…these, I was promised, would always serve.  But I haven’t pulled it from my drawer in a decade now.  My phone magnifies; my Bic lights fires.  Don’t even get me started on sturdy lost Zippos, or (equally lost) refillable butane status markers—engraved, sometimes.

The other day, I realized I no longer carry a car key. There’s a tech that’s slipping away—remember when it was a rite of passage to admire a muscle car?  To gain a license?  To OWN one of these things?  I hear the kids don’t even want one.  Too much trouble.  Just hire it.  Use your phone. And now, with a trace of contempt, we speak of “ICE”…Internal Combustion Engines.
It’s no longer taught in high school.  Why would it be?  People laugh aloud when a particularly old one goes by, and you can smell it for a long while after.

I think back.  Grama’s keepsake wedding china was shoved off to some Goodwill, I am sure, because that glorious gilt pattern couldn’t tolerate a microwave.  Heh.  Microwaves.  Remember when your first microwave cost $800 and lasted about 20 years?  Remember appliances that were meant to be repaired?

What other buggy whips do I have lying around? I have digital buggy whips!
I have a digital clock so old that it remembers THE FIRST daylight savings time.  Every year it shifts itself forward about three weeks too soon.  Every year it falls back three weeks too late.  I have to manually intervene… there’s no update for the onboard chip that old.

For a brief time, I got out my old wind up clock—a travel alarm of which I was enormously proud.  But it makes a racket, and it needs winding every day.  I finally let it run down again, because my spouse couldn’t abide the noise.  For his sake, I also had to tear the batteries out of the modern clocks that are not really mechanical, but they “tick” anyway.  What a legacy!  My phone doesn’t tick, always knows what day it is.

After the first 100 years—I think that the older I get, and the farther removed I become from the tech of my childhood, the easier it will be to just wave it past and mumble, “Ah, there goes another one.”  I haven’t worried about warming up the TV in many years.  I haven’t had to adjust the vertical roll that started when the CRT was too hot. Likewise, I haven’t had anybody invite me inside to admire the fact that the image was IN COLOR, and we all had to come over to see the first of us to manage getting one of those! Now… the screen goes from “WYSIWYG” to “Retina-display” with barely a shrug.  Somehow, we take that for granted.

Remember how we all laughed at the idea that we’d PAY for TV?  That’s what commercials were for! Remember VCRs were supposed to liberate us from that? Remember Blockbuster? Remember when Netflix came in the mail?

Remember going to a movie theater? Does anyone remember when the insides of the “movie house” were as ornate as jewelry boxes?  Balconies and carved ceilings and layouts that reminded more of cathedrals than of cushy living rooms?  I think it’s harder to have lost the ornate theater space than it was to say goodbye to VCR’s and their blinking 12’s.

First hundred years….
I think I shall barely notice passing through my second hundred years.

Image: Jonathan’s Swiss Army knife. By Marilyn Evans