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Archive for Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jest for Grins: Father couldn’t resist lure of technology

July 4, 2010

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Ask any of my sisters if you don’t believe me. Our father enthusiastically embraced new invention. ANY invention. It didn’t matter if the item was a new kind of mousetrap or a piece of electronic equipment, if Dad could afford it, he was going to own it.

He was reputed to have owned the second television set in town (the dealer who sold it to him owned the first). It was a rounded-screen, 12-inch black-and-white model, and programming was limited to about an hour and a half daily, counting the test pattern.

While I don’t remember any money changing hands, I recall that my classmates were very competitive about being invited to our home after school to sit on our couch and watch the test pattern, which was an Indian warrior’s profile centered over circles and lines. My friends and I watched that test pattern just as avidly as we did the two shows that were broadcast: “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” and the 15 minute newscast with Randall Jessee, former press secretary to President Truman. Then the screen went dark.

An invention I wish Dad had avoided was DDT. Husband Ray swears that, all these years later, I still glow in the dark as a result of Dad coming into my sisters’ and my bedrooms while we were sleeping and fogging the room with DDT so we wouldn’t be bitten by mosquitoes. Mom later insisted that he merely fogged the entire house with the insecticide and then took us all for a long ride in the country, but I remember far too many nights waking to the hiss of the aerosol can and the smell of DDT.

Technology soon found a less harmful — at least to humans — method of eliminating mosquitoes. The first time Dad saw a bug-zapper, he jumped at the chance to buy it. Watching the brief flash and hearing the ZZZZTTTT! as mosquitoes and other insects incinerated themselves was almost as entertaining as television.

One of the most welcome inventions Dad ever purchased was an air conditioner. He had a hole cut in the house under the picture window and installed it one very hot summer. For a while, I’m pretty sure only our house and movie theaters were cool.

Sister Vicki, the youngest among us, appreciated one new culinary treat Dad brought home. I contend that she was too young to know that chocolate-covered grasshoppers were icky; the rest of the family certainly did ... except for Dad, who served three years in combat during World War II. Who knows what he may have eaten then (and likely was glad to get).

Dad didn’t overlook Mom when it came to new inventions. He bought her a mangle, which reduced her ironing time. She became expert using it to iron Dad’s starched white shirts and our frilly dresses. And he gave her a beautiful pink skillet with a black non-stick interior. I remember that because Grams, while visiting us, worked hours with a copper scrub-pad to scour the black surface down to shiny aluminum.

Ray remembers a scary test-drive when Dad acquired a new car with a telescoping, tilt-wheel. “We were blasting down the two-lane highway at 75 miles an hour and your dad was busy telescoping and tilting the wheel.” Dad died before the advent of home computers. He would have enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to keep in touch via e-mail and would have spent countless hours on the Internet. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge and would have regarded the Internet as free education. Best of all, unlike his four daughters, who are fluent only in English, he could have cruised sites in German, French, Italian, Hebrew and Arabic.

Dad would have been delighted to know that on a recent road trip to the East Coast, Ray and I packed three computers (my laptop, Ray’s notebook and iPod) and two cell phones into a car equipped with a GPS. Surveying the electronic equipment, I looked at Ray and exclaimed, “Technology R Us!”

Somewhere, my father was smiling.

— Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence whose latest book is “Human Nature Calls.”

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