Sunday, April 24, 2005

SEARCY ’46-’56 – Part 07

Chapter Three - 3

Tom Pry

Day-to-Day – The 40’s

What, you might ask yourself, did we use for light in the 46-48 interregnum BP (Before Power)?

Grandad had a certain advantage over a lot of people living where and when we did: he didn’t have much in the way of experience and past history to hinder his thinking. As a result, while most other people used dim kerosene lamps and their smoky chimneys, Grandad bought one of those newfangled Coleman™ gas lanterns, the big, bright one with TWO mantles in it, and hung it on a nail driven into the doorsill between the livingroom and kitchen.

One quart of gasoline would light both rooms very well for a full evening. Kerosene lamps were for when you had to go into the “pantryroom” or the back bedroom, if you were going to stay lit in there for longer than a flashlight would suffice.

Grandad had built the first radio in Glenwood, AR, back in the 20’s, a nice little quartz job that made all the neighbors stand in awe. He’d been a fan of the medium ever since. Now, understand that “portable” radios weren’t. To begin with, they had TWO batteries (don’t ask: there was a good technical reason), one pretty light, and the other one wasn’t at all. (James “Bubber” Varner still has the one that belonged to his folks: perfect shape, he just can’t find batteries that’ll fit it).

What’s a fella to do when you’ve got a habit of Paul Harvey on one night, Walter Winchell on another, Gabriel Heatter on a third, and the rest of the world the other four? I don’t know what the rest of the world did, but Grandad pragmatically yanked the radio out of the dashboard of the car and put it on a stand next to his livingroom chair. He attached long lines and alligator clips to the power leads, and then made the new parking place for the truck right outside his window. At the end of work late every afternoon, the truck hood went up far enough for Grandad to fasten the radio power clips to the battery posts in the truck.

Hey, it worked. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
The rest of our evenings were kind of dictated by the weather/time of year. Sometimes we’d individually read (except for my sis, who had to count the contents of her penny jar every single evening, and God help the mark if she found a penny missing! She learned to count before she could read), or games (Billie was very fond of teaching us card games, especially poker). If it was the right time of the year, there might be popcorn, made in a wire basket over the heat coming up from the wood in the kitchen stove, or we’d be shelling peanuts for next spring’s planting (the usual ratio was eat one, shell four), until we had a five gallon can full of shelled nuts.

That’s a lot of shelling. It might not sound like much, but see how many little cellophane packages of peanuts you have to open and empty before you fill that can.

When electricity finally arrived in 1948, Grandad bought a table radio, set in the same place. Its schedule was now expanded: we got stock reports for lunch, followed by a live gospel quartet, and news. (A later installment of this Endless Epic will explore the wonderful world of electronic entertainment).

The Coleman gas lantern was now replaced by a naked dangling bulb in each room, a certain improvement. For my Grandmother, Billie, it meant entertainment on the radio, and Saturday night was HERS, and no one dared complain about the quality or the content on Saturday evenings – which was invariably The Grand Ole Opry, live from Nashville, and DIRECT from WSM Radio in Nashville.

WSM was/is a 50,000 watt AM station (the U.S. legal limit) but, even at that, it’s a long haul to Nashville from here. So, along with Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Little Jimmy Dickens, Flatt & Scruggs, et al, we had copious quantities of static, a hissing and crackling that kids today don’t remember, because they all listen to FM.

AM is what we had, WSM is what Billie had, and every Saturday night was a fun night for her, too.

(Series originally published late 2003/early 2004 on the old site).


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