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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

This Thing Doesn't Work!

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how Gram would feel about all of the technology we use these days. Since she was born in 1906, she saw all sorts of change both socially and technologically. During her life, she saw Prohibition and bootlegging come and go. Heck, she was even a cocaine addict and didn't realize it. She told me that when she was about sixteen, she and her cousin Gert (Gertrude) just had to go to the drugstore at 2:00 every afternoon to drink a Coca-Cola, or they couldn't make it through the day. When I teased her about being a "coke fiend," she just smiled and said, "I guess there's a lot of things about me that you just don't know!" Sassy!

Gram remembered the sinking of the Titanic and Molly Brown's part of that drama. In his waning years, Buffalo Bill Cody lived in her neighborhood, but she was intimidated by him, so she didn't go to visit. She was just a little girl anyway. She saw travel go from horses and streetcars and the occasional automobile, to flying, although she never got on an airplane. She saw this evolve into the space program and men walking on the moon. Entertainment evolved from radio programs, movie theaters, and legitimate theaters, as she always called them, to television, then color television, and VCRs and cable. She often commented that she had been blessed to live during such a time of great change. She didn't necessarily feel blessed when I asked her to start taping something on the VCR, though. In spite of my many demonstrations and her practice runs, instead of pressing record and play, she invariably pressed record and fast-forward. She always insisted that she had done it correctly, but the machine didn't work right.

As Gram got older, her kids were challenged to find something to give her on birthdays and at Christmas. One year, her kids chipped in and got her a color television, and she thought that was pretty cool. Digital clocks were so-so for her. She did really like her cordless phone, although I never could quite get her to understand, in the early days of cellular phones, that the fact that it was cordless didn't make it a cell phone.) I also failed to make her understand that her granddaughter's telephone out in the country, which had a number something like 303-857-xxxx was not toll-free. She kept saying that yes, it was, because it was one of those 800 numbers. I gave up, it was too frustrating.) When she was about seventy-five years old, her kids chipped in again, this time to get her a microwave oven. I was quite happy with it, and used it almost daily, but if she wanted something microwaved, she usually just asked me. 

One afternoon I called her from work and she asked me how to use the microwave to defrost some hamburger. Keep in mind that the early microwave ovens were very different from what we have now. As I recall, there was one dial that had to be turned to cook, or defrost, or whatever. There was another dial that had to be turned to set the cooking time. And there were push-buttons for starting and stopping the beast. So I ran through the necessary steps several times of setting it to defrost, selecting the time, and starting it up. When I got home, I asked how the microwave worked for defrosting the meat. She was angry and disgusted. "I put the meat in there and it didn't do a d--n thing. This thing doesn't work!" I never did figure out what steps she left out, because I knew that it was best to drop the subject. From then on, the microwave was pretty exclusively my territory.

Thinking about Gram and these things reminded me of my years in banking and customer service. Whether I was a teller or doing customer service on the telephone, the older customers always seemed to love me. My time with Gram filled me with a respect for older people, and perhaps a bit more patience to explain things that were so different from the older days of the banking industry. One day, I had a sweet, grandmotherly lady on the phone that was very frustrated. She had been trying for several days to reach a specific department but everyone kept giving her the wrong telephone number to call them directly. I asked what number she had been given, and looked up the listing for the department. It was the same. Sort of. The young bankers assumed that when they gave her an 800 number to dial, she would know that she needed to dial 1 first. What was second nature to them was new to her. I told her that she had, indeed, been given the correct telephone number, which was 1-800-etc. "Oh, am I supposed to put a one at the beginning? I dialed 800-etc and kept getting through to a cellinar phone. At least that's what they told me, was that I was calling a cellinar phone." I assured her that changing how she dialed would make the call go through just fine. In fact, I had her write down my name and direct-dial phone number so that she could call me if she didn't get through this time. I never heard from her again. Apparently this thing did work!