Gone but not Forgotten – Objects, Idioms and Attitudes

First and foremost, I miss telephones. Real ones with heavy bases we could rest on our laps, key pads we could punch, and huge handsets we could comfortably tuck between our chins and ears, with no risk of a protruding nose or finger inadvertently cutting off the call.

Additional Advantage: The great fun of slamming down the receiver in an angry huff if the person on the other end offended our oh-so-tender sensibilities.

Voices: I miss the joy, sorrow, and simple informational value of human speech. Let’s say, during a telephone call, a friend said, “Sure. Go ahead and date my ex,” the voice would communicate if he or she meant, “I really and truly don’t care” or “Try it once, Pal, and you’re dead.”

Intonation, tempo, and emphasis convey everything from anger, to resentment, to arrogance, to gratitude, and love – all of which easily can easily be masked in an email or a text.

Fountain Pens: Yes. They are difficult to fill and the ink is easy to spill, but the silky smooth glide of a nib across a page transmits a message from the brain to the hand to a sheet of paper in a direct line (without interruption) from the heart.

Stationery: I miss receiving letters in stamped envelopes, unfolding the enclosed pages, and devouring sentences with my eyes. I miss knowing that the sender had to choose a certain kind of paper (rag bond, lined legal, scented sheets); select a writing implement (pencil, ballpoint, or felt-tip pen), and then arrange his thoughts with an eye to permanency: A paper letter can be burned, but it cannot be “deleted.”

I miss what penmanship conveys: Are the letters bold and broad? Are they tight and fastidious? Is the handwriting sloppy or neat? Are doodles of dinosaurs decorating the margins? Is there the shadow of a teardrop blurring the signature? Or is that merely a soda stain?

I miss how penned epistles expose more than what the writer wants to divulge. A soul can be hidden among the abbreviated symbols of a text message, but it inevitably reveals itself between the lines of a paragraph on a written page.

Delayed Gratification: I miss the buildup of expectancy when waiting for a letter in the mail. I miss anticipation. Did the college accept me? Did that publisher reject my book? Is this an invitation to Joe’s wedding in Bermuda? Or is it the royalty payment I’ve been expecting for so long?

I miss inky epistles from my father in which he quoted poetry, imparted wisdom, and told tales about family adventures at home.

I miss taking a roll of film to a photo lab, not knowing what will develop, and two days later picking up real, physical pictures that preserve the past and put a smile on my face.

Hard Copies: I miss friends opening their wallets and showing me photographs (inserted between a driver’s license and a credit card) of their children “of course, Jake and Joan are older now,” dog, “Blackie died a few years ago, but I still miss him,” and wife, “Kathy’s hair is shorter, but she’s still that pretty.”

I miss pouring over old photo albums, and getting a guided though through other people’s lives.

LANGUAGE: I miss sex-specific words. An actress is obviously female. An actor is male. To call both sexes “actors” in the name of equality provides less data without improving anyone’s status as a human being. The same applies to waitperson, flight attendant, and chairperson.

A stewardess I know hates being called a flight attendant. Although that job description is sexually neutral, she prefers the original title because it carries an aura of romance. A stewardess might sleep with the captain (my friend did and married him), but all a flight attendant does is hand out soda and pretzels.

Race: I miss black people being black or Negro, and I miss white people being white or Caucasian. I particularly dislike the term “Afro-American” since – based on color alone – we cannot know if the person described is British, Jamaican, Kenyan, Brazilian, or any other nationality.

All black people in the United States are NOT Americans.

All immigrants to this country from Africa are not black.

In fact, the only true Afro-American I have ever known was Sidney Goldstein, a white guy who moved from Johannesburg to Chicago when he was sixteen and acquired his American citizenship a few years later.

MISCELLANEOUS: I also miss people dressing up to go to the theater; I miss passenger trains that can take you anywhere in the country; I miss banks that look like institutions instead of fast food chains; I miss vent windows on cars that can direct airflow right into your face; I miss riding a bicycle without a helmet; I miss children calling their friends’ parents “Mr.” or Mrs.” instead of Sally and Phil; and I miss civility.

Most of all, I miss civility.

But that’s for a different column.

To end this one, I would like to ask my readers … what do you miss?

I would truly like to know.

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2018. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com

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