The Light and The Darkness- A Blast From The past Post from Dec. 2014

The Light and The Darkness- A Blast From The past Post from Dec. 2014

As you know I’m working really hard to finish Through Fire, interrupted by some health stuff which is getting me down. So the world’s most awesome husband took me away from the keyboard yesterday night and on a date to the Denver zoo, to see the Christmas lights.

It was just starting to snow, as we approached and we were afraid we’d get frozen but it was surprisingly mild the entire time we were there, and the lights were awesome.

We’d gone once with the kids, when they were little, and the lights were mostly stationary, but now there are a number of moving light shows, and also stuff like oriental lanterns in the elephant area.

Because we went relatively late (had an appointment that let out at six thirty, so no choice there) and because it was starting to get nippy, we weren’t as mobbed with kids as you’d expect. At the end, we might have turned around and gone again, except there was a light drizzle of snow falling. So we adjourned to Pete’s kitchen, where we sat at the window, watching the snow paint patterns in the window and the wind shake the lights outside, while we sat inside all snuggly and warm.

Did I have a point to this, other than bragging about my husband?

When I was a very little girl, I thought the holidays were magical. You see, they used to outline the little medieval church tower in white lights. In a village where streetlights were few and far between and most of the houses not only had only one lightbulb per room (usually naked, in the middle of the room and like 40 watts, no matter how large the room,) but everyone also kept an oil lamp or candles, because the light was off as much as it was on, the lights outlining the tower in the dark (glimpsed from my window late at night) was a miracle.

Fireworks were miracles too, particularly the more complex ones that made pictures.

And of course, festas in summer were a thing of beauty, because of all the light and sound. In retrospect, these were rather pokey ambulatory festivals, mostly booths selling crafts (only these weren’t cool crafts, just most of the stuff around there and then was hand made.) And there were maybe three rides, one of them the obligatory tethered airplanes and the other probably bumper cars, leaving the third to either a roller coaster or a carousel.

Why am I going on about this, just now?

Because in the middle of that amazing light show it occurred to me “as bad as things are…” As in, back then, my little self would have thought that lighted zoo a wonderland out of dreams.

My kids, of course, take it for granted.

But there is a difference between taking it for granted and imagining that, somehow, strangely, the past, with its privations, the past without any of these marvels, was a wonderland.

I’m not going to say my childhood was awful. In many ways, it was a magical place. But it was a magical place despite the privations and the lack of entertainment.

I was blessed with a father who would walk with me through the local fields and woods and not only show me the local fauna and flora (and tell me stories about it) but also read the inscriptions in Roman ruins we stumbled upon. I had a father who in the summer would walk me to the nearest pond to see the fireflies over it, and who taught me to make a pan flute out of reeds. (And who would also take me on an expedition to feed and observe the ants in a massive anthill down by the fields. And always, always, be ready with history or legend, or poem to illustrate something. And I was blessed with a grandmother (dad’s mom) who made up stories for me involving an alternate of the village populated with shape shifters and magical beings.

Add to that a brother and a cousin who were willing to let me tag along with them on their expeditions and who tolerated my thievery of their books, and it was a very good childhood.

What it was lacking was more on the material front: non-scratchy clothes, heated rooms (and bathrooms!) in winter, medicine that wouldn’t be available for decades and – well… entertainment.

Look, I’m a very boring sort of person. Even now, my favorite entertainment is reading. Surrounded by games and movies, I choose books.

But back then even the books were limited. Not only couldn’t we afford them that often, but fewer were printed than here, so the choice was far more limited.

Of course we read everything – I read history and mystery and romance (and when my brother found it SF) because I read everything everyone in the family bought.

Even the newspapers’ serializations of old books ended up clipped out and kept to re-read later.

I don’t think any kid born here and now understands that re-reading wasn’t a choice. You re-read because you simply couldn’t find enough to read.

That today I can research anything – I was just looking up hot buttered rum (shut up) – by typing a sentence on the net, would be enough to make me think this was paradise when I was a kid.

And this is why all the programs of the progressives have been outstripped. They had plans and ideas to bring about equality in 1930s terms. One stack-a-prole apartment, one ration of chicken a week, two suits of clothing a year: EQUALITY.

Instead, we have people living wildly divergent lives in the way they want to live them, and all these people can do is bleat about class and equality.

How do you determine class when, even if I were twice as rich, my life wouldn’t be much different day to day? I’d still live in a house that’s warmed in winter and cooled in summer; I’d still have light and music for the asking (I remember my brother’s transistor radio being a seven day wonder in the village.) I’d still have a computer and be able to read a vast amount of things for free. (And write with minimal effort.)

How do you determine equality when how happy and contented people are has a lot to do with what they choose to do with this immense common patrimony of science and abundance we have?

How can you even insist on equality?

In the end all their bleating is revealed for what it is: a plea for power. They want to control who gets the light, and who is shunted off into the dark.

Well, they’re going to have to think again.

We won’t go quietly into that good night. We’ll stay here and bask in moving pictures made of light.

They like the past so well, they can start their own self-restricted communities. We can always use more Amish at least for the cheese.

As for me, and my house, we’re going to go see Interstellar again tomorrow. We might even go do it in Imax. Because we can.

147 thoughts on “The Light and The Darkness- A Blast From The past Post from Dec. 2014

  1. Did I have a point to this, other than bragging about my husband?

    Would that not be reason enough?

    And here, until you said that, I had thought that your point was to make me wish I could have been there. It sounds perfectly beautiful.

    It took me years to realize how richly I was spoiled growing up. When I was ten we moved into center city Philadelphia. It is not that we had a great deal of money. It was living where I did when I did. In those days at my age you could explore center city without ‘a supervising adult’ without anyone so much as batting an eye.

    Being a kid, what did I know? I took it for granted. I though — who didn’t just wander into the Grand Court of John Wanamaker’s on a whim to see the decorations?

  2. Beans-n-bacon with cheese on toast. Tuna-rice-peas-n-cheese casserole. Lots and lots of tough stew meat. Wearing patched and mended clothes. Roaming free through neighborhood woods and gullies and unfenced back yards. Getting almost any book I asked for. Eating home-grown fruit off the trees and carrots pulled out of the ground and dusted off. Having older cars but traveling all the great trails of US history (not the Natchez Trace yet) and Civil War battlefields, and then going overseas. I’d say I had a really, really good, free-range childhood.

      1. I recall vegetable based meals when Daddy was working his way through law school. One of my favorites being Fried Eggplant dinners.

        1. I developed, in my thirties, a raging allergy to eggplant. As in my throat closes and blisters. Which is a pity because I love eggplant as much as meat.
          We had fried broa (dense bread of corn and rye flour made by local farmers) slices in lieu of meat a few times. I miss it, weirdly. BUT the farmers who made it are gone, and the commercial version is not the same.

          1. Eggplant – Wikipedia
            Eggplant (Solanum melongena), or aubergine, is a species of nightshade grown for its edible … As a member of the genus Solanum, it is related to the tomato and the potato. It was originally domesticated from the wild nightshade species, the …

            I think I may see the root of your problem.

            1. I still find it funny that when my wife and I looked up the nutritional value of eggplant, the best that could be said for it was “it doesn’t have enough nicotine to be addictive”…

              (Although we don’t eat it much, we still like to eat it occasionally.)

              1. It’s pretty good if you tempura-fry it, thought you have to get the small skinny ones for that to work very well.

    1. Some years (and years) ago, I recall hearing/reading how someone went with a rip rather than a patch as “A rip looks like an accident, a patch looks like poverty.” And now I wonder, how long before things swing around (will it take crash? Ouch!) and “A patch is conscientious, an unrepaired rip is just sloppy.”

    2. We weren’t poor, but we were careful; being a faculty member in the fifties amounted to a vow of genteel semi-poverty. My parents gave me what they could, which happened to be all the important stuff. Lots of “We can’t afford that,” but unlimited trips to the library. Always living, no matter where we moved, on the border of a vast undeveloped area. Being allowed to wander the woods and streams with no restrictions between after-school check-in and sunset. Riding my bike on country roads. Perhaps best of all – no television, in an era when all the other kids rushed home to warch “Mickey Mouse Club.”

      1. I remember the Mickey Mouse Club; it was full of depictions of kids getting out of their houses and doing stuff together, having fun and adventures and the occasional tussle.

        Just like the kids watching the show could have been doing, were they not sitting at home watching.

        Warning!!! Video depicts adult-endorsed violence, gambling, gender and ethnic stereotyping, partial child-nudity, phallo-normative behaviour and is entirely lacking in positive female characterizations. May not be safe for all workplaces

        1. Disney during these years was known to send notes to his writers like, “say ‘if you get a bicycle’ instead of ‘when you get a bicycle.’ Some parents can’t afford bikes.”

      2. I had a TV from the age of 8 on, but it never took. The pictures in my head were more interesting. I liked Merry Melodies which played on Saturdays, and Sundays I watched old Hollywood movies (mostly musicals) through the long sleepy afternoons in winter. I was, still am, very sensitive to cold, so winter in an unheated house consisted of hiding under books and reading everything I could get my hands on, then extorting more books from dad and brother and acquaintances (I made friends with several insipid rich kids for their family library.) But in Summer I was out there, doing stuff and building cities of twigs and branches, or watching the life of lizards, or just reading and daydreaming.

    3. You too? The Daughter always lobbied to do The Natchez Trace. I have plotted out a plan for it, but, as of yet, we have not managed to do it.

      1. I’ve been curious since I read the 1962 history of it _The Devil’s Backbone_ by Daniels. It’s pretty sensational, but outlines an interesting route to travel through the Old Southwest.

        1. Southwest? Southwest of what – Bermuda? 🙂
          (I went & looked it up – Natchez is not exactly remote New Mexcio/Arizona territory- but, hey, if you’re from Joisey, I guess.)
          ((Although I thought a denizen of TEXAS would know that.))
          (((Thank goodness I’VE Never Made An Error!)))
          (((Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.)))) 😀

          1. Southwest of what had been the original states at the time of its blazing?

            It is only about two centuries since Ohio was a barely habitable frontier and Indiana a savage wilderness.

            1. Given that the Northwest Ordinance was written about Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc. it seems fair enough that the Natchez neck of the woods was the Old Southwest, back before the Louisiana Purchase and America leaping across the Mississippi.

          2. Murgy, what the Other Sean said. One of the early terms for Alabama, Mississippi and northern Louisiana was the Old Southwest, because it was south and west of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The use of the term started to fade out after Texas joined the US, but you still see it as shorthand for the south-central Deep South.

            1. And 2 seconds on google with “Old Southwest” would have told me that. Doh!
              My humblest apologies.

              (note to self: Learned something new today, didn’tcha?)

    4. Far and away most of that I would take now at fifty or close variants…classic mid-20th century US casseroles like the tuna-rice-peas-n-cheese? Check. I still make beans and franks from canned pork and beans (or vegetarian beans with some lard added).

      I wish people felt safe letting kids from free through the neighborhood and despite my rep as a crotchy old man there is a sadness that no kids play touch football in my yard and the ones on either side like we did as kids. In fact it was listening to my friends with kids talk about how no one lets their kids roam and play outside (they pretty much all say that fear drives the scheduled activities not that scheduled activities keep them from roaming) that brought home recent discoveries about how balkanizing culture leads to lower trust.

      1. And of course those who don’t fear that there kids are going to be grabbed by roving child snatchers are afraid that someone will report them for allowing their kids to walk the quarter of a mile to the playground alone and CPS will come take their kids away (so I guess that’s just another version of roving child snatchers).

        My neighborhood does seem to be a little better; I’ve seen kids wading in the ditch that bisects the neighborhood without so much as an adult in sight, but I do worry that eventually some busybody is going to snatch these kids and force them to join a soccer team or something.

        1. If things ever really go bad here, I expect the bodies hanging from lampposts will sport signs like “Child Protective Services” and “IRS Agent” more often than “Hoarder” and “Enemy of the People” – at least in places they bother to string them up instead of following the three S’s.

              1. When I learned the three S’s, it was from a somewhat different culture. The last two were shower and shave, and the first was NOT shoot.

    5. Meals with Dad that consisted of pork and beans and sandwich meat, or saltines and sardines. Following him everywhere from the fields to the tractor place. Living where a bobcat got treed one night beside the gas tanks at a country store, and you’d occasionally find a bear track in the yard or hear a catamount scream. Being with Dad when we saw a bobcat cross the highway, and he stopped the truck and meowed at it, and it answered.

      Have eaten C-Rations and a type of dehydrated food in a gold can the size of a luncheon meat can, with a key on the bottom to open it, and a genuine P-51 can opener in a paper pouch on top. It had either a fruitcake bar for dessert, or a chocolate bar that could have put Ex-Lax ™ out of business. No, I’ve never been in the military.

      Have been proud to get hand-me-downs each year. One was a hunting jacket that I wore in warm weather because it was a hunting jacket! On one occasion wore an honest-to-goodness loin cloth (don’t ask).

      Growing up on a farm and having to hoe and drop fertilizer by hand because Dad believed every boy should know how to hoe crops and drop fertilizer.

      Not a bad childhood, all in all.

      1. > loin cloth

        A friend of mine made one of those during one of his retro phases. He wore it while tramping in the woods.


        When I asked him why, he mumbled something about stinging insects and dark places…

        1. It was suggested, by an unknown younger lineman, that we wear shorts in the summer. That got a lot of laughter from us older heads, who have been in many a briar patch.

  3. I can’t find the essay right now, but entrepreneur Paul Graham once explained that Capitalism actually makes people surprisingly equal.

    He gave two examples: watches, where no matter how much money you have, you probably aren’t going to get much more accurate than that $50 watch you can buy at Walmart or Target. (Indeed, no mechanical watch, no matter how expensive, could be as accurate as that $50 digital watch.) Similarly, even if you spend thousands of dollars on a suit, it’s not going to look that much better than a $500 suit.

    And this is due to the capitalist tendency to standardize and improve products. Inequality, in a certain sense, is a market opportunity.

    In contrast, if we look at Cuba, and ignore the government officials (who are oddly, surprisingly, doing *much* better financially than the average person), equality is forced — and everyone is equally miserable. A brain surgeon actually makes less than someone in the tourist industry, because tourists get to keep their tips. And every home is run-down, because if a government official sees a home that’s nicer than the ones surrounding it, they take it as proof (in a place where you need no trials to be found guilty) that you’ve been trading on the black market….

    1. What you mean Comrade Fidel’s double Rolex habit didn’t actually confer any practical benefit? And here I was certain that the only reason a Man of the People would have such an extravagant habit was because he absolutely needed to be on time to do the People’s business and couldn’t risk being late by even a second!

    2. “even if you spend thousands of dollars on a suit, it’s not going to look that much better than a $500 suit.”

      And that gap is going to get even narrower now that companies are starting to do custom orders. I can go online to an online dress manufacturer whose name I will not mention lest this comment gets trapped and order a dress made to my measurements (which are non-standard enough to make off-the-rack clothing look badly made no matter the quality) for a mere $10 fee above their already reasonable costs. Furthermore, once I’ve made the decision to go custom, I can change components of the dress for no further cost. If I don’t like the neckline, I can choose one that suits me better. If the hem is too high or too low, I can change that too.

      Once I have clothes that fit *me*, I look as good as though I have a personal tailor, which is currently only available to the rich or the connected. (Or talented.)

      1. Custom-made clothing was a science fiction staple since way back. I finished John Rackham’s “The Proxima Project” last night. It was written in 1968. Automatic-made clothing was one of the throwaways and another was near-as-dammit a Segway; a transport platform that you stood on, and it’d scrabble back and forth underneath to maintain your balance.

    3. I’ve got a $50+ electromechanical watch that was drastically reduced into the affordability range because the battery had died. Bought the watch and a battery, and now it’s my Sunday watch.

      What’s interesting is that it’s not as accurate as the $12 mechanical wrist watch I tried to wear but the band was too short for my wrist and could not find a replacement. That watch is more accurate than the more expensive watch I bought for work.

      Honestly? The only way I’d shell out more for a watch is if it was one of those with radio control to set itself.

      1. I have a $90 pocket watch that nt only has multiple alarms and a calendar but can make and receive phone calls as well as sending and receiving text messages (on option I only reluctantly activated a couple of months ago after resisting Daughtorial Unit’s pleas for several years.

        It also has a notepad capable of storing up to 300 characters in a file, a calculator and various other applications (such as a camera) which I actively avoid learning to use.

        1. I purchased a Casio watch for my middlest child as he went off to college. Subsequently went to a presentation on how kids of today don’t need watches because of smartphones, and how educators and youth groups need to figure out how to integrate their use into programs and learning. I mentioned that my son really appreciated the watch and found it useful since he was the only one who had one. The reply I got was he was only being polite and didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I didn’t bother correcting him since he knew he had all the answers. But 36 hours into field maneuvers with his ROTC company, he was the only only first year cadet who knew what time it was. Modern technology is great to have. When it’s available. And it isn’t always.

          1. My children do not yet have cellphones, never mind smartphones nor tablets. I insisted on old fashioned watches; the jewelry store had ones designed to teach one how to read time.

            To others they might seem very deprived, since they have no tablets, no smartphones, and all their video game consoles are older things – a Sega Dreamcast, a Nintendo 64 (if we could get the Atari to work, they’d play with that too.)

            They also get the old video games to play with on their computers (which is why they don’t have tablets) – their computers have the ability to play some games, like Unreal Tournament, which they enjoy, Minecraft, Star Trek Online (which they really enjoy because of the storylines.)

            They might not have the latest and greatest, but they enjoy what they have.

            1. And in the case of Minecraft, playing it can actually teach them a lot, especially if you let them play with certain (carefully selected) mods. For example, playing with the Forestry mod and its bee-breeding mechanics will teach them all about Mendelian inheritance — they’ll be actually eager to learn how to draw a Punnett square! And playing with the Immersive Engineering mod will teach them all about hooking multiple machines up to achieve a desired effect. And more importantly, will give them the beginnings of an engineering-oriented, problem-solving mindset.

              You may already know all about these mods and many others, so I won’t elaborate further. But if you don’t already know all there is to know about Minecraft mods :-), email me and I’ll be happy to give recommendations for mods that I think would teach your kids useful skills. My email address (in case you don’t have it) is my first name, dot, my last name, courtesy of Gmail.

          2. Maybe 25 years ago, before cellular phones were more than a curiosity, a friend decided he wasn’t going to wear a watch any more, since clocks were almost everywhere, and if there wasn’t a clock he could ask someone who had a watch. He had a lengthy spiel about how “he wasn’t going to be bound by the clock.”

            One day we were out somewhere and he asked what time it was.

            I told him to buy his own watch.

            1. I don’t wear a watch because I make them die on me, somehow. My longest lasting digital watch was on a necklace.

              Anyway, I usually just know what time it is, if I ask myself. Not good for exact intervals, but fairly close.

              1. I wear a watch on my wrist because I am an old fogey. Even without that or my cell phone I always know what time it is: the time is NOW.

                1. The only time I don’t wear a wrist watch is when I wear my pocket watch with overalls.

                  For work I use a digital with stopwatch function, timer, and that I can easily set to the second. This can be surprisingly hard with some cheap digital watches. I used to have to set equipment by my watch, and I set it regularly by WWV. Then I received a radio controlled clock one Christmas, and have used that instead.

                  These days I don’t have to set equipment by my watch, so to the second accuracy isn’t a must, but I still do it.

                  One distinct advantage to a watch is that you can take it with you into a courtroom, where you have to leave a cellphone outside.

              2. Me too. So now I use a phone. I kill all watches, even my dad’s expensive mechanic one. I held it for five minutes. He still thinks I tinkered with it. Honest. I remember. I just held it for five minutes while he washed his hands. No one could make it work again. I’m CHAOS WOMAN!

                1. I’m okay with watches, but I have the +8 Touch of Death when handling circuit boards or electronic equipment.

                  It’s ironic, since I occasionally get calls to do equipment repair. My electronic skills are practically nonexistent and I’m color blind, but my antique BBS sysop lore includes being able to diagnose and wire serial connections, which appears to be a practially nonexistent skill locally. So I’ve found myself hanging upside down inside CNC machinery wiring cables to connect to an embedded controller… but the fat checks were a-verra-nahss.

          3. Watches are great. I find that it takes too much time to pull out my phone to use it for checking the time.

            And there is something to be said for accoutrements that are not at risk of being dropped into a storm drain every time you pull them out to look at them.

          4. I work in a secure space, and will for the foreseeable future. I HATE not knowing what time it is. I LIKE my watch (analog, because it makes changing the time when crossing time zones so much easier.)

      2. I bought a digital watch for about $35 some years back that has the WWV setting feature. It’s my go-to travel watch because it’s not worth stealing, and also does a second time zone fairly easily. Normally, I wear a Citizen Eco-Drive that I splurged on a few years ago when I found it on sale for about half off.

  4. It does sound like Dan gave you a beautiful night. I love Christmas lights (and Christmas music and even cheesy Christmas decorations). I may have to see if I can convince my caveman to take me to the Zoo Lights some time this year.

      1. I somehow missed the “zoo” after the first Denver, and got to wondering where the elephant section of Denver is. Even your readers make your story more interesting.

    1. In the Cincinnati area we are blessed with an abundance of holiday light displays, over and above the regular household ones. The Cincinnati Zoo has one of the top displays in the nation, and is walk through. The county parks have a drive through display in one of the parks, and The Christmas Ranch is a combination drive through and walk through spectacle. I usually do one each holiday, plus walking through my neighborhood and driving through others. Its a wonderful, magical time.

        1. Yes. I remember seeing one the last time I did the Festival of Lights there, in the cat house (no, not that kind of cat house). They’ve got a lot of pretty felines in there. Bearcats, not being actual cats (or bears, for that matter) are found elsewhere in the zoo.

  5. Holidays are magical times, times when human ingenuity is bent toward delighting and amazing one another, in which we compete to bring joy and amusement to each other, friends and strangers alike. It is not that we celebrate our material wealth but that we bend our material wealth to celebration of our spiritual wealth. At their core they are celebrations of community, of the ties that connect us one to another, regardless of the many petty distractions offered every day.

      1. I’ve heard a similar discussion of medieval cathedrals. There are those who will accuse the church of being horrible and greedy building these beautiful cathedrals while people were starving, and then others will point out that the cathedrals were places of beauty and art where even the meanest peasant were welcomed; Joe-Bob the plowman is never going to see any of the tapestries that are hung in the castles of the lords, but he will get to enjoy the art in the cathedral.

        I can see both sides; I can guess Joe-Bob might rather be fed than have a chance to see a beautiful depiction of the Virgin, but I can also see the point that some level of beauty and uplift is what separates us from the animals. Frankly, I’m very grateful to live in a time when it isn’t an either/or choice.

        1. I’ve always believed that building big, lavish cathedrals was all part of the early church’s push to convert EVERYONE. After all, would a non-believer be persuaded to give up their beliefs and convert to a deity in a run-down shack? No, cathedrals were built to represent the glorious power of God.

          1. Oddly enough, it was Lenny Bruce who said, “of course the poor should have cathedrals. Why should the poor be expected to worship God in a s***house.”

            1. Most cathedrals were built by a lot of little donations and a lot of no-tax fundraising from market fairs. The nobles and merchants made some big donations as a good example or thanks to God, but the poor and middling gave most of the money in small donations. Just like the big old city churches in this country.

          2. not conversion, perhaps, but to oppose the “might” of Islam. We tend to forget that early Christian spirituality, like Islam’s today relied on a lot of “we are supreme” type of presentation. Perhaps because they WERE competing with Islam, but I’ll leave that to Suburbanbanshee, who I wish would write a book on how Islam hcanged and influenced European Christianity by its invasions. I can think of no better scholar to do it.

              1. 1. Put up proposal on crowdfunding website.
                2. Let the Islamic death threats come in.
                3. Crowdfunding website takes it down with PC claims of TOS violations.

                    1. okay, fine. They don’t do them for factual books. At least I just read a book that nails Islam in Andaluz up and down the block, and i don’t think the authors are in hiding.

                    2. Someone has to read the book, declare a wossname, and make enough of a fuss for the mainstream media to take notice. Which, since Islam is a tender subject with the MSM, they might decide that news not flattering to Islam would not be in the public interest, and not mention it.

                1. Besides PC BS and death threats, the issue I see with kickstarting it is the uncertainties both of such extensive research and of writing out the results.

                  1. Obviously the thing to do is look for a time and place with plentiful sources, and look for answers there. That’s one book. Then you do another, from the next time and place with good sources. Then you compare and contrast….

            1. Not just European Christianity.

              Although even Islam wouldn’t approach the worst persecutions of the curve which would be left to atheists centuries after Islam’s largest (to date) peak.

        2. One thing that made the cathedrals possible was the milder climate of the Medieval Warm period. You had a century and more of good harvests and fewer storms, so trade flourished and culture bloomed. The greater population and better conditions allowed for better social organization and the luxury of extra funds to build things like cathedrals. This was also when the popularity of the Virgin was really blooming (see also troubadore poetry and chivalry and Courtly Love). Combine all that with new technologies that allowed high walls, and cathedral construction could spread across France, England, and into other parts of Europe.

        3. Funny. The line I heard in college was that they were a communal work of art. No one designed them or financed them–they arose spontaneously from the collective soul of the People.

          The teacher was amused by that one, too.

  6. I’ve always loved the holidays for the lights and music. I’m always astonished at the number of musicians who feel the need to ruin the classics in their own way but the only time I really care that they do is when I’m forced to listen to it at work.

    Growing up, there were no end of opportunities to earn a little pocket money and I lived within biking distance of a used book store and a library. During the school year, I had permission to get off the bus a stop early so the book store was on the way home even if it meant a slightly longer walk.

    There wasn’t a lot of luxury growing up but there were lights and books and that’s still mostly what I need. The danger of not having heat or enough to eat is now one of mechanical failure rather than economic and that’s a big step forward even from 10 years ago.

    1. Traveling home from school for Christmas I would fly into Washington, D.C. and then take a short hop in a small commuter plane to Philadelphia. This was one flight where I really hoped to get a window seat so I could watch the Christmas lights spread out below. It was magical.

      (Driving along the route years later I realized that many of those neighborhoods that looked so richly beautiful from the air when they were decked out for Christmas were actually very sadly worn down.)

      1. All the people who decorated around my parents house have either moved or gotten old enough that they can’t do the displays they used to. I’m having to go to the big displays now to get my fix. Usually the zoo is a good bet and I might try the botanic gardens this year.

    2. Usually, I’m down at Christmas. I chalk it up to SAD. Anyway, I enjoy singing, and have been singing carols since after Thanksgiving. Treated myself to a full version of Handel’s The Messiah for listening at work.

      Sometimes I like the modern interpretation of classics. The Trans Siberian Orchestra did a rock guitar version of Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful that sounded like something Jimmy Hendrix would do, and it sounded good. My memory is hazy, but I may have seen an AC-DC Christmas album once. Wasn’t quite game enough to try it.

      1. We’ve had some pretty serious problems around the holidays (usually death, sometimes legal) so I look forward to them with mixed feelings. But the lights and the music make it all not quite so real for just a little bit.

        I love Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I haven’t seen an AC DC Christmas album yet but now I’m tempted to look.

        1. I understand the feeling. This is now the second holiday season in a row in which I’ve been scrambling trying to find work before I run out of rent money. My Christmas spirit is very distracted right now.

          1. I used to work a job that went dark starting mid-November and had no hours, but still required to be available to be on call, until January. It made paying rent around the holidays…special. Makes the overtime this time of year seem like a gift from heaven.

            1. Been there. Done part-time, done Temp.

              The problem with a part-time job was I still had full-time expenses. The problem with Temp work is still having permanent expenses … although, while a philosophical argument can be made that the “only” permanent expenses are grave-site maintenance, that proves to be surprisingly slight solace.

              1. The other problem with part-time work these days is the ACA. If you’re full-time, then there’s a good chance that your employer is picking up the bill. If you’re part-time (or contracted to a contractor as I was at my last job…), then you’re responsible for your health insurance. And if you don’t have health insurance, then you have to pay a “tax” to the IRS in April.

        2. Bob Rivers has done a bunch of Christmas parodies from classic rock songs. Some are NSFW, some are good clean fun for everyone.

          My favorite is still ‘Rummy Rocker Boy.”

        3. My mom managed to turn every Christmas into a family disaster. It became the holiday the rest of the family dreaded.

          When I left their house “Christmas” was one of the things I didn’t take with me.

          1. My brother was arrested on Christmas Eve while I was out on my first real, actual date ever. My whole family blamed me for it for years. It wasn’t until I had kids that my family was willing to put aside the Karies killed Christmas mourning and start to enjoy themselves again.

        4. I was wrong on two counts. The song was The First Noel, except they call it Faith Noel. It’s the first track on The Lost Christmas Eve album. Listened to it again this morning.

          Looking for the AC DC album turned up it wasn’t AC DC. It was Twisted Sister’s A Twisted Christmas. In the process discovered a Christmas song done by Bad Religion. Oooookaaaay.

      2. Funny – one of my favorite Christmas albums (Brave Combo’s It’s Christmas, Man!) features mostly traditional interpretations of classic carols … just not the traditions usually associated with those tunes.

        I have proposed the family learn these and go caroling among the neighbors but nobody seems interested in joining doing a Samba interpretation of 0, Christmas Tree, a rumba version of Little Drummer Boy or a ska rendition of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts).

        Probably because nobody wants to suffer through my learning to play accordion.

        1. I have a “lost” Christmas album of an attempt to put a Mexican spin on some Christmas carols. Why they didn’t just have Mariachi Sol de Mexico cut the album, I don’t know. But the attempt was horrible. That made it perfect to play when I wanted to be annoying. The album “disappeared” from the Christmas music collection, and my wife and the kids disavow all knowledge.

          1. The Tenchi Muyo Christmas album. Because Japanese voice actors singing Christmas carols in Japanese and mangled English is cute, hysterical, and Christmassy. (Not to mention the Little Match Girl skit segments interspersed throughout the songs.)

          2. There’s a hilarious one called “Tijuana Christmas”. It’s actually well done but it’s basically as though Herb Alpert took on Christmas.

  7. So, my kids spent a few years with cable, but have predominantly watched dvd’s and the internet for the last several years.
    I was explaining TV scheduling and timeslots to them the other day, and realized how much of history they needed to learn.
    So the wife, Masked Pain, has taken over ancient history, and I’ve been sharing more recent events.
    The reminiscence and comments on this blog helps me to put in perspective the changes in our recent past.
    So, thank you to everyone for commenting and sharing.

          1. I’d forgotten about that. The first B/W set I remember had to be just so. Then, when we got a color set (early 1970s), I discovered a magnet could affect the picture – and sometimes it would be hard to undo the effect.

        1. Ted Turner’s Super Station used to start broadcasts five minutes past the hour and half hour. It was to catch viewers who’d look at regular programming and go “Eh, let’s see what’s on Super Station.”

    1. Now explain an era with no DVDs, no VHS, no internet, and only two TV channels… that shut down at 11PM and come back online at 6:30 in the morning. And you had to purchase a subscription to a magazine or newspaper to find out what the broadcast schedule was.

      (where I lived, circa early 1980s…)

      Sometimes when reading books written in the 1940s or 1950s, I have to remember that people made operator-assisted calls not because they were lazy, but because direct dial wasn’t fully deployed until the early 1960s…

      1. I read a novel (published in the 70s) where the female main character arrives in a deserted area by bus and wonders where her friend is.

        I caught myself thinking “Well use your cell-phone to call her”. 😈

        1. I did something similar. I was writing a scene between a modern-day character, and some WW2 characters who had been revived, and I without realizing it, I had the modern-day character use the term “fast forward” to indicate a time skip. Fortunately, I caught it right away, and added a short, “Huh?” comment from the revived characters.

          So much stuff has changed over the last century.

          1. And I am just waiting for a younger coworker to eventually ask me what I mean when I suddenly stop and just say “Rewind” when I need to go back over something.

        2. Every so often, I think about how many songs and stories have been obsoleted by cellphones. Things like, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Silhouettes on the Shade,” “Busy Line,” “Operator,” (either song – the Jim Croce one or the Manhattan Transfer one), and a bunch of others.

          A few years ago, someone pointed out that, prior to cellphones, you had to know where someone was in order to call them, but now, you call them to find out where they are. An entirely different mindset.

            1. In general, yes. There are exceptions. But that’s the revolution, innit? Having a method of direct contact with someone, rather than having to find someone in order to contact them.

      2. Portugal had two channels. One started at one pm (I used to rush over to watch the cartoons they opened with) and closed at midnight. The other started I THINK at 7 pm and closed at midnight. The second had more “intellectual” programing. I actually liked to watch it because it had lectures and documentaries and funky foreign movies.

      3. I moved to a small town in Missouri in “75, and was surprised to find that i could not dial direct for long distance.

        1. Remember party lines? You shared a line with several subscribers? Sometimes a subscriber would listen with a hand over the pick-up, and if you realized it you could have a ball yanking their chain?
          Those old rotary phones physically made a connection which was like “pulse” on modern phones. You could also pick it up on an AM radio, and you could jot down the phone number by counting the clicks.

          1. You could also pick it up on an AM radio,…

            Wow. It’s not surprising, but I didn’t know that. We had a party line for maybe a few weeks. We’d moved and the new installation from where we were was a private line (or party, but no other party so…) and the place we’d moved to was party line (of only two parties) – and the other party was Quite Annoyed that it was now/again a shared line. This was at the very end of the party line systems in the area as it was being converted to TouchTone compatible.. in 1980. We still used pulse dialing for some time[1], and more than once I’d placed a local call by carefully timed keying of the switchhook.

            [1] Sometime in the 1970’s a neighbor half a mile or up the road got pushbutton telephone. It was rather a let-down to use it and hear the dial clicks. The local exchange system couldn’t yet handle tone dialing.

            1. We got tone dialing in the 1970s, but there was a hefty surcharge for it. We stayed with rotary dial phones until the mid-1990s, when they made another price hike and got rid of pulse dialing.

          2. If you get a land line in N.Y. you’re asked if you want a party line. At least you were in 1997, the last time I hooked up to one. N.Y. public utilities law required their availability. I seriously doubt the law has been changed. And I just thought- Can you imagine a party line cellphone?

              1. Thought didn’t even cross my mind, but I had one also. And party line cellphone is a good description.

          3. Long after party lines were considered defunct, my father-in-law still had one in rural Tennessee in the early 1980s.

          4. The last land line that I had (1999-2000) was precisely the right length inside the building to pick up a local radio station… the one I worked at. The sound drove me nuts until I caught the ID music, because it was just about the volume of a conversation in the next apartment over.

    2. It was quite a while before I found the explanation of old phone numbers such as PEnnsylvania 6-5000 or BR-549. One episode of some radio show (I forget which) had quite a bit that felt like it was a way to fill time, but it was fascinating to me, in this age. It was an international call, but it demonstrated what that involved at that time. Someone picks up the phone, calls the operator, and tells them what they want to do. I forget if there was transfer or if the local operator took it from there. And then the initial call ended, but one operator after another would set up a connection to the next, until finally the target phone rang, was answered, the right party confirmed or found. Only then, would the initial caller’s phone ring with the call set up. And now automated systems handle that in not much time at all.

  8. The Great Author is having fun with me again. I got to school this AM and no Internet!!!!!! Woe, horror!!!! What will I do without the music I wanted to use and maps stole—, er borrowed from the ‘Net??? How can we teach without technology???!!!

    Yes, spoiled am I.

    I put the dates on the board, used the big map on the wall, and drew diagrams. The ‘Net came up just before class, so I could grab a couple maps, but otherwise no special effects today. The students didn’t seem to notice, but today was more “history as stories” to begin with, so props were nice but not critical.

  9. Actually Sarah, your parents weren’t poor – they just didn’t have any money. My parents were the same way & taught me the difference.
    In my small town growing up the local merchants would let people buy things ‘on account’ & you’d settle up when you got your paycheck. People who didn’t have any money would sit down on pay day & figure out which bills they should pay right away & which could wait for the next paycheck. When my parents died they didn’t owe anyone a nickel.
    The poor people would run up big bills at all the stores that they didn’t pay because they were too poor, but somehow always had enough money to go out drinking in the bars on Friday & Saturday night. Their houses would be falling down because they were too poor to maintain them, but they always had a huge color TV in the living room.

    1. Yes. My parents refused to use credit. That was one the one thing they did teach me “Do not live on credit.” We have a mortgage, but we intend to get rid of it ASAP like mom and dad did.

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