Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fun With the 50s

I’m making progress on the reworking of my Tangled Strands story, and as I move ahead in it, I am finding more ways to show that it is happening in the 1950s. For someone like me who lived during that time, it is a lot of fun.

I’ve chosen to give the characters in my story cars that are not longer in the market. Sharon drives a little green Rambler, Agnes drives a “vintage Studebaker” (in honor of my grandfather who never drove anything but a Studebaker), and young Chris drives a classy Chevy Bel Air. We caught an old Mayberry episode tonight, and Barney Fife was splurging his whole nest egg to buy a car for $300! Of course there were no seat belts in any of those cars, and Interstates to drive them on were just coming off the drawing boards.

Other things were different, too. Not only were there no cell phones, there were no cordless phones. Most homes had only one phone, and it was anchored to a wall or sat on an end table. And the phone numbers began with words, like MOntrose 8-6931. You dialed the MO and the numerals, which gave you the seven digits we still use. Area codes were perhaps being dreamed of by those who had to think about such things, but the rest of us had no idea about them yet. And when Barney's car broke down out on the road, Andy set out to walk to the nearest phone he'd noticed in passing at the gas station a half mile back.

And then there was music. The only music you could have in your car was from the radio—yes, we did have radios. In your home, the only music you could play would be on what was called a record player because—guess what? It played records. The round black record spun on a turntable and a needle “played” the music by riding in the ridges in the record. Though it was nothing compared to what we have now, it was still a rather amazing thing, if you think about it.

As for stereo, I have to tell you a true story. This happened in the early 50s, just a few years before my fiction story takes places. I was in a Christian boarding high school in central Florida. A special speaker came to visit named Jim Voss. He had been a gangster with perhaps the most famous gangster of the time. Jim shared with us his testimony of how he gave his heart and life to Jesus at the end of a crusade with a new young evangelist named Billy Graham.

Jim had a treat for us—a brand new invention that was not available for sale anywhere at that time. He had a truck load of equipment with him, and it took him almost all day to set it all up on the stage at the front of our chapel. The equipment covered the whole platform, and some of the pieces were as big as Jim, which was pretty big. Then we all came together for a demonstration of this new marvel—stereophonic sound! I remember him playing some music where you could hear some instruments on one side of the stage and some on the other side. But the pièce de resistance—with all the lights in the auditorium turned off—was the sound of a train going from one side of the stage to the other. It sounded like that thing was going right through our building.

I’ve never forgotten something Jim said at the end of that demonstration—and you can imagine how it has returned to me many times as things have changed in the decades since. Jim assured us that such equipment would never be available for home use because it just wouldn’t be possible to make the equipment small enough.

I thought about that again today when my son was showing me his new iPhone.

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