Just Ask Siri

You “youngsters” probably cannot imagine how we old-timers entertained ourselves before present day electronic devices such as cellphones came along and helped change our lives. So, bear with me as I attempt to fill you in on some of the adventures we had back in the days when telephones were still anchored to the wall.

Before I get into the “old days,” let me assure you that I appreciate the way cellphones have improved our communication skills. However, I am frequently amused, and sometimes amazed, at how we have become addicted to such devices. For example, the story of the fellow who upon entering his doctor’s waiting room came to a halt and bowed his head when he found everyone in the room with their heads bowed as if in prayer. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that they were staring at their cellphones. He quickly took a seat, grabbed his cellphone and bowed his head like everyone else.

I can identify with that story, having recently witnessed a similar scene in a doctor’s waiting room.

As for entertainment in the early days, Frisco had a movie theater (we called it a “picture show”) which was open only on Friday nights and Saturdays. Admission was a dime, and it furnished a great deal of entertainment for the community, especially on Saturday, when people from surrounding farms came to town to do their shopping for the week. In the early years, the pictures were silent, leaving the audience free to hiss the villain and cheer the hero.

For home entertainment, in the 1920s, before loudspeaker radios, many families had what we called a “Victrola,” which was a chest-high, spring-driven phonograph that played 78 speed records. My parents owned one, and we spent hours on end listening to those old records. The records had to be loaded one at a time, so it kept the listeners busy loading and turning the crank that wound the spring. When the spring needed to be re-wound, the record slowed down, making the words and music sound very odd. One day, I accidently turned the crank too hard and broke the spring. Our Victrola was broken, never to be the same, but I found I could turn the record by hand, and the music came forth again, if I turned the record at the right speed.

Some of the more affluent families had a “player piano” which played big rolls of music when someone sat on the piano bench and pumped the pedals. My grandparents, who lived in Ark., had such a piano, and when I was fortunate enough to visit them, my Ark. cousins and I kept the player piano busy.

Then, radios came to our homes. First, we had a battery-powered set which did not have a loud speaker. Each listener had to have what we called “headphones.” The sound was not very loud, so everyone sat in a semicircle around the radio, quietly listening, afraid to make any noise.  One of our favorite shows was the comedy “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”

In the early 1930s, loud speaker radios made their way to Frisco. The first one I heard was at Curtsinger’s Drug Store. The drug store had overflow crowds during the World Series.  They set up a large chalk board and kept score, inning by inning, as the listeners sat, spellbound, drinking Cokes and malts and cheering for their favorite team.

In 1933, my parents finally made the big purchase of a Crosley loud speaker radio! I could hardly wait to get home from school so I could listen to “Dick Tracy” and “Little Orphan Annie.” Those programs always had some prize to order, like a decoder ring for secret messages.  And, after supper, we all gathered around the radio to listen to whatever was on. Some of our favorites were “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “The Shadow.” That was truly the best of family entertainment.  

For outdoor entertainment, boys played baseball and football, hunted with our BB guns, played marbles and made sling shots and something we called “rubber guns,” which shot rubber bands cut from automobile inner tubes. Rubber gun fights were fun, and it did not hurt much when you got shot. We also played cowboys and Indians using cap pistols, when we could scrape up a dime to buy the caps. Recess at school found some playing baseball or basketball, while others played games like “Crack the Whip” and “Red Rover” (let someone come over).

I asked my wife, Beth, what girls did for entertainment when she was young, and she said she played hopscotch, jump rope, jacks and even marbles, when the boys would allow her to join the game.  

Let’s turn the calendar forward some 20 years from those grade school days and see what families in this part of the country did for entertainment. Many of us liked to hunt, fish, play golf, etc., but when children came along, our entertainment moved to spectator sports — watching and helping coach our kids in little league baseball and peewee football.

By that time, radio had lost some of its allure, so, after the evening meal, adults turned to card games, board games and good old Texas 42, a game played with dominoes. After the children finished their homework, they sometimes joined us in playing games like Chinese Checkers and Monopoly. There was never a lack of something to keep us entertained, though, by today’s standards, our activities were pretty tame.

Then, in the early to mid 1950s, something called “television” invaded our homes and changed our entertainment world forever. The novelty of being able to sit and watch a show, regardless of what it was, kept us glued to our little black and white sets. We did, however, get some exercise. There were no remote controls, so we had to get up and walk to the set to change channels or to stop the picture from “rolling.” I remember seeing such shows as “The Milton Berle Show,” “I Love Lucy” and, on Sunday nights, there was “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Later, one of our favorites was “All in the Family” with Archie and Edith Bunker. Friday nights were special. It was then that we watched a live show, wrestling, from Dallas. That brought many of our neighbors, especially those who did not yet own a television, to our house “to visit.” We suddenly became very popular.

Television had a far-reaching effect on many things — not all good. It ruined the family dinner hour. We bought TV trays so we could eat without missing a minute of the dinnertime shows. And, Frisco’s Picture Show closed in the late 1950s, never to open again. Its owner, Tracy King, told me television ruined the movie business in Frisco.

As you know, television, with its big screen, color, high-definition effects and more is a very popular form of entertainment today. There is an unending list of stations and programs, some good and some not so good. If you do not feel well on Sunday, several church services are available on your television, so you have no excuse for not hearing a good sermon.

So, what is the next big thing in the world of entertainment? Let’s just ask Siri. She seems to know all the answers. So, all together now, grab your cellphones, bow your heads with me and talk to Siri. That should bring us an answer.