Monday, April 4, 2016

An Old Table.

Looking back, life in the pre-WW2 days seems incredibly primitive, but pleasant in many ways. 
One picture-memory often pops up when I think of those days. After our evening meal, usually eaten by lamp-light, one of the lamps was taken into the living room. One was left in the kitchen to light the dish washing. There were a lot of dark shadowy rooms in those days.
 With the lamp set in place on what was called a library table, Dad took his usual place in his old wooden rocker, and rolled his second cigarette of the day. 

Today, I see that the old table with its lamp, was the heart of our daily lives. It held a battery radio, the bible, a stack
After years of utilitarian use and abuse
of  Saturday Evening Posts, the latest newspaper, and an ink bottle. There was also a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a handbook on caring for common farm animal diseases, and a Texas almanac. Those were our information sources. It was more productive to just ask Mother. 

It was there we wrote letters in those archaic days before cell phones or Facebook. I studied there; Mother read or worked out crochet patterns from pictures in magazines, we read the weekly Saturday Evening Post (5¢ per copy, cheaper by subscription), and kept up with the news of the world from a bi-weekly newspaper, The Semi-weekly Farm News. 

In addition to its mixture of international and homey local news, advertisements and market reports, a full page of popular songs of the 20s and 30s was a regular feature. My favorite of these songs was The Strawberry Roan. I was just a kid, remember, and if you Google it, you may understand why.
 Today, I wonder if this song-page was meant to bring a bit of fun into the readers’  lives. There was no money to squander on entertainment in those hardscrabble days.
The general opinion was that Ex-President Hoover was to blamed for everything that had caused our plight. 
On the other hand, President Roosevelt was blamed for taking the wrong approach toward setting the nation on the path of recovery. Furthermore, he was messing with our rights, and the Supreme Court overturned eight of FDR’s recovery acts as unconstitutional. 
It was a time of great change and many  new laws—and the beginning of big government. My parents, two independent individuals, had many heated discussions about the direction FDR's administration was taking the country. Then, only two decades after the end of WW1, war again erupted in Europe, and reports of Nazi Germany's take-overs began to fill the news. Serious news for most adults, and scary reading for a kid.
So the news, even if was several days old, was very important, and was viewed as a condensed, but accurate, report of what was happening in our nation and the world­­—until war was declared and censoring became necessary to protect both our military and national secrets.              
This bit of tampering with our freedom of speech caused no protesting demonstrations. Movie newsreels showing dozens of burning warships and fighter planes plunging into the sea, were reason enough to live by the slogan, “Loose lips, sink ships.
 The Semi-weekly Farm News continued to provided the news for rural Texans until 1941, when it merged with the Dallas Morning News in its 99th year. Naturally the cost of upgrading our subscription  to the Dallas Morning News was a sharp increase over that of the old Semi-weekly, and it didn't take Dad long to decide that the Dallas Morning News had little to offer someone making a living by  following a plow.
A copy of its final issue’s front page featured an item about the  $17,000,000,000 budget president Roosevelt was drafting that included $10 billion for the armament program. Other items on the front page included forty-five aliens being registered; Mrs. Roosevelt's view on the value of work camps for youth, several columns concerning the war with Germany, and a  mishmash of insignificant items. With that issue, it was gone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                
 So were twenty-seven years of peace, for the war was worsening, and while our leaders argued the pros and cons of joining the fight against the Nazi Regime, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor ended all discussion, and we were officially at war the next day.
 We won the war—the nation emerged from the depression, and we began to have a bit of money in our pockets. Entrepreneurs met the challenge of helping us dispose of it. Newspapers had sale sections larger than that long ago Semi-weekly Farm News. 
Encyclopedia salesmen knocked on our doors. Newspapers had morning and evening editions. Competition and ingenuity expanded our news sources to bigger and better radios, then television. From there it was only a short jump to computers, cell phones, ebooks and Kindles....all bringing wider and faster news coverage, and instant access to any subject you choose.
Today's news coverage extends far beyond the daily news. There are  talk shows, news analysts, news magazines, and instant reporting of note-worthy events from around the world. In addition, a little device small enough to carry in a pocket, brings news to our side twenty-four a day—if its battery is charged. 
 This morning I turned on the TV and was instantly watching the chaos in Brussels. Never mind that I couldn't remember what county Brussels was in—that's what Google is for. Compared to the static-filled newscasts of the 40s, today's media is really quite awesome. And unfortunately, it's become a tool in the hands of those whose goal is to shape our opinions.  
So what is true and what is not? According to news reports—which may or may not be true—people no longer trust the media. Truth and politeness have taken a dive in favor of lies and gutter language. Comments are taken out of context. Insignificant remarks become tabloid headlines.
All this at a time when the truth is terribly important as we face what may be the most important election of our lives.
When millions of dollars are being spent by special interest groups on advertisements filled with untruths and inflammatory statements, all calculated to sway the vote, we have the makings of a pot of trouble. 
We see the results as protesters block streets and highways, and disrupt rallies— and in the angry tirades on Facebook. 

    So what does this rant have to do with an old library table?

Nothing and everything. Today's lack of trust in the media brought a flash-back to those long ago days when we sat by that old table listening to to our only source of up-to the-minute news time—a memory of a time when our freedom of speech didn’t extend to flag burnings and shouted obscenities, or demonstrations that shut down highways and speaking events.
So perhaps memories of the old table, its kerosene lamp, and the newscasts of 75-80 years ago, are relevant to what is happening today. A then and now comparison measures both our progress and our failures.

At any rate, the old table found a new life—at least part of it did. Its sturdy panel end legs now support a handcrafted harvest style dining table made by one of my sons-in-law. He even salvaged the table's drawer. 
Need I say that I'm happy it's again useful and part of a beautiful heirloom? 

Dannie Woodard
April 4, 2016