I Was the Remote

imageEarlier this week, I was having dinner with a few friends and we were talking about the differences between our children’s experiences and our own from childhood. I’ll apologize to my daughter as well as to the sons and daughters of those friends, but that’s what parents do. Our life was harder and in many ways the world was a more difficult place in which to live. In other ways, life was simpler, and it moved at a slower, more manageable pace, but we only focus on one side of the coin at a time. That’s because we’re getting old, but you knew that.

We were going through a list of the things that our children have never seen or the things that were miracle inventions to us that they have never know life without. Since I am a little older than my friends, my daughter is a little older than their children and she was on just the other side of the line in some cases. She does remember life before Internet access was a household staple, but we had CompuServe and AOL Instant Message (AIM) and IRC Chat. Faith is old enough to remember TV before cable, but we didn’t let her watch much TV prior to when cable brought us The Disney Channel. Saturday morning cartoons were about all that she might have seen.

That’s actually how we old folks got started on our conversation. One of my friends mentioned that his kids were in bed on Saturday morning watching cartoons via Netflix on their iPads. We all remembered being on the living room floor with a bowl of cereal and we thought bed + iPad + Netflix was just wrong.

I shared a story about when my daughter was able to go back in time with respect to TVs. We were on a vacation (yes, that vacation) and we drove around Washington State. We toured Grand Coulee Dam, and from there we headed west via the North Cascades Highway with a side trip to Mt Baker. From Coulee City, we drove to Winthrop, WA, as a staging area so we could begin our trip through the North Cascades early.

Winthrop is a western themed tourist town, but we were up for that. We stayed in a saloon-styled hotel that had a VHS Tape lending library in the lobby. Faith thought that was nice, but I’m not sure she appreciated the reason at first. Winthrop, located on the east side of the Cascades with not much else around it, didn’t have cable. Winthrop had the 3 broadcast networks and PBS, just like we had in Pittsburgh when I was a child. Those broadcast signals were delivered via repeater transmitters, over the Cascades.

Once in our room, Faith scurried to find the right bed (best view of TV) and, the, remote – Faith had control of the remote throughout that trip. Interestingly, there was no remote. No remote? How does that work? I introduced Faith to “The Dial” and the list of those 4 channels. As in every other town across America, they weren’t 1,2,3 & 4. No, they were 2, 8, 11 and 53 and 53 required setting the first dial at “U” and then dialing in the spot between 52.5 & 53.7 that had the least “snow” by using the second, smaller dial.

After we laughed about her experience, one of my dinner companions admitted to not remembering life before remotes. He looked at me and one other guy and said: “you guys actually remember life without a remote?” At that point, my friend and I both said: “I was the remote. My dad just told me to change the channel.image

It’s true.

Not only were we the remotes, but we were intelligent remotes. My dad would say “put the ballgame on” and I spun the dial to KDKA which was channel 2. I was an early incarnation of Siri (and I think I worked better) “Siri, what channel is the ballgame on?

Actually, Siri handled that better than I expected.

We weren’t just the TV remote, we were errand boys. From the point that we could be trusted to carry a few dollars, my brother and I were sent to Jule’s Market for everything from a pound of Chipped Ham to a pack of cigarettes. Yes, this was the early 60’s; kids could buy cigarettes for their parents. The worst errand was to get pop (soda for my New England followers) because that required carrying bottles both ways. Six empty bottles to the store and six full ones home. Early in my errand running days, I had a single-speed bike with a basket. That worked fine for trips to the store. After I destroyed that bike (see earlier post) I ultimately ended up with a 3-speed English Racer with hand brakes, gears and no room for a basket. I learned to carry a bag or a 6-pack of pop in one hand while steering, shifting and braking with the other.

Yeah, kids today have it way easy. Then again, their kids will be able to tap their phones and have Amazon fly them a 6-pack. Time marches on.

34 thoughts on “I Was the Remote

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  1. I was the remote and the errand girl, too. The store was two blocks west. I bought my father’s cigarettes for ninety-five cents a pack, and exchanged my soda bottles for twenty cents off. That was 82-86, in a small town. Every day, I woke up with an alarm, watched Cowboy Bob and Janie (might have been local) and ate my cereal before heading out to the bus. I didn’t have to walk to school uphill and in snow both ways, just around the corner and two blocks south. I remember Saturday morning cartoons, followed by Wide World of Sports. I had to come in when the streetlights came on or if my father whistled. Summers meant washing my asphalt-black feet with the hose before coming in the house, directly to the tub.
    That part of childhood was sweet. And felt simple and safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha – my school was up hill, but only one way, the best way, going, Always downhill coming home. Surprised you could still buy cigarettes in the 80’s but maybe the small town effect. Cartoons were better then too, not so much a 30 minute commercial. I was trying to remember when Wide World of Sports and Wild Kingdom ended their runs. Thanks for continuing this story!


  2. We both feel very grateful we grew up in simpler, more rural times. I don’t know if life was easier for youth then, but it seems so now looking back. I chuckled at you being not just a remote, but an intelligent remote. Such warm memories.

    Now I’m clicking on your two links to prior posts – more good reads, no doubt :-)

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I was the same way until my sibs and I had to clear out my folks’ farmhouse and barn to move them to a 1-bedroom condo and Mom wanted to take everything, including 30 years of magazines and 6 dressers, with them and “sort it out later”. That emotional time and physical work cured me … sort of …

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Fortunately, we did that in stages. My mom moved from a small overstuffed house to a series of smaller and smaller apartments. When it came time to move here near my brother, there wasn’t too much left to sort out. Unfortunately, in the absence of the “big hit” I have not been cured.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I guess it was really just our area of the spectrum. My daughter will have “back in my day” stories just as my parents did. It’s hard to imagine how much more things will change. Thanks for poking around my blog.


  3. Where I grew up, children belonged to the community. That meant you were an errand boy until you got married and had your own family. And if you were sent, you were required to run like hell to and fro. Strict discipline was the order of the day. A stranger you’d never even met before could report your misbehavior to your parents–always something like: “your son/daughter did this to me” or “I saw him/her do this to so-and-so”–and our folks never spared the rod. Such a report could also be made to any schoolteacher who lived nearby or just happened to be around, and eventually it would reach your principal, who would then enforce the necessary discipline.
    I don’t know whether the current generation with their “rights” have it easier than we did or worse. I don’t know, Dan. I think several comparisons have to be made before any conclusions can be drawn. Even the games we played were more creative. I mean, we made musical instruments for fun, most of which were stringed and wind instruments. One of my classmates I remember made a huge toy car from a tree trunk at the playground. He made it for their lastborn, two years old. And whistles and flutes were made from rocks.
    But all that knowledge is gone. I see kids now with play stations all the time. And don’t they look dumb? There are these high school leavers in my neighborhood. All they do is play PS. Some very violent games, I tell you. They usually bring those devices to me for repair when they break down,and they always break down. I charge them highly for the service. And three times now, I have heard that those boys fight with the estate watchmen. One of them tried to punch his mum but punched a wall instead. He broke his arm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Different cultures to be sure, but we had the community service drilled into us as children. And, as far as strangers telling our parents about our movement, I swear that grapevine was faster than any social media app. I do remember making toys, inventing games and playing war-like games in real life. I think that activity helped foster an active imagination and I wonder if the fantasy game playing can match that. There are several blog post ideas in this thought process Peter :)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post that brings up memories . And , do you remember the Indian ? When the programming went off for the night ( don’t tell Faith that happened ! ) —- what 11:00 pm ? midnight ? the Indian came on with static .


    1. I don’t remember an Indian. I remember the Star-Spangled Banner and a test pattern. I also remember civil defense tests. I don’t think Faith ever experienced the programming going off the air. Thanks


  5. I laughed out loud about the dial, Dan. What? NO remote? Yes, I do remember those days as well. Just like your daughter all we were allowed to watch was Disney which I believe was Sunday at 7pm. Does my memory serve me right? Kids today I have no idea how active we were, because we didn’t have the internet and with the ease of a button, could order anything one wanted. I’m glad your daughter had the experience of the “dial”. Perhaps that will bring a little appreciation for the remote. My hubs leaves today with his brother on a fly fishing trip to the Black Hills of PA and where they are going, they won’t even have a signal for their cellphones, much less electricity. And yes, I’ve been there. Wishing I was going, believe me! xx Amy


    1. Yes , the Wonderful World of Disney. You’re right, that was on on Sunday nights. We were active and we had to use our imaginations. We did make sure that our daughter played outside and she did make up games. Thanks! Have a great weekend Amy.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. At home we had a dial and then a more advanced 4 button preset that you could tune with the dial. On vacation we used to stay in a cabin on the river near the mouth. Pot belly stove, one room and an AM radio 📻. A week of talking and reading at night then fishing walking and swimming in the day. We’d go in winter and apart from a pair of seals it would be just us. Ahhh…


    1. I remember when Lucy was new. I can understand putting your son out in the warm sunshine. We pushed our daughter out as much as we could, but it gets dark and cold early in the winter here. the question is, how did you ever get your son back inside?


      1. The problem with him was that he only wanted to read books and we had to negotiate “reading” time so that he had a more well rounded life. Like no books at the beach or else he’d sit and read and not play. Or he’d get the whole Chronicles of Narnia if he was on the running team for one season. He’s an anomaly, that boy of mine. As a grownup, he’s learned to balance his time and run or hike or swim, so I guess I did a good job!


  7. Ah, by the 70’s kids were not able to get cigarettes for their parents – my cheeks still flame at the memory of the way a cashier shamed me when my mom asked me to take on this onerous chore.
    Did your conversation happen to move on to the way that kids these days can just watch movies via the onboard screens??? I learned the coding to road signs by looking out the window throughout my childhood years, and dreaming…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our daughter was out of the house before the DVD players were popular. She grew up with the Wee Sing cassette tapes in the car which gradually morphed into country music in my truck – something she still enjoys. I remember the road signs, looking for out-of-state license plates and even Burma Shave signs on our family vacations. Prior to the Interstates, those were long drives along “scenic” roads.

      Good to see you back in circulation. Will you be posting again (or have you moved to another blog that I am missing?)


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