April 25, 2013
What Her Eyes Have Seen
I lost My aunt rose a few weeks ago. Yes, that’s a sad thing, but the saddest thing was that she wasn’t just a dear aunt and wonderful person. What I lost was my own personal time machine, a magic mirror into the past.
Aunt Rose was born in 1916. She was 96 years old, and the last of my father’s generation for our family. “The last of the Mohicans,” she once said. Her oldest brother was born in 1898. She died in 2013, ending a generation that spanned 115 years, a little more than a century. In the almost 100 years Aunt Rose lived, she witnessed more change than at any time in history. I spoke with her often, listened with fascination as she told her stories. Her memory was remarkable up to the day she died. But as fascinating as her stories were, I couldn’t help thinking—my God, what it must have been like to have lived it.
- She was born before World War I.
- She was born before the automobile, when the streets were empty and people walked everywhere.
- She was born before talking movies, or the commercial use of radio, and long before TV.
No one had telephones in their house; in fact, just one year before she was born the first U.S. coast-to-coast long-distance telephone call was made by Alexander G. Bell. It was made possible by a newly-invented vacuum tube amplifier.
As I said, there was no such thing as a TV, and outside bathrooms were still a luxury that most people couldn’t afford. Most houses had no electric. It wasn’t until 1925 that half the houses in the country got electric.
Think of What That One Invention Meant:
- No electric coffee pots.
- No toasters.
- No lights (other than gas or candles).
- No refrigerators (just iceboxes).
- No garbage disposals, or hair dryers, hair curlers, and electric toothbrushes.
- No electric ovens or ranges.
- No radio…and countless other things.
If No Electric Wasn’t Bad Enough…
Nylon stockings were 23 years away. It would be almost twenty years until there was a phone in Aunt Rose’s house. Portable phones were 70 years away. Cell phones another 15 or 20 behind that.
Think about the phone a minute…even as a teenager, no phone. And yet, two weeks before she died I spoke with her using FaceTime where we could see each other from 1600 miles away.
Airplanes were only in comic books. The Wright Brothers had invented the airplane a few short years before her birth, but no one dreamed of one day making flights across the country or boarding a plane for something like a vacation.
- The Russian Revolution hadn’t started yet.
- The United States wasn’t in the war.
- And that curse on all humanity, the Spanish Flu Pandemic, which ended up killing between 20–40 million people, was still two years away.
- It would be four years before the first commercial radio broadcast aired, coinciding with the Prohibition Era.
- It would be six years before insulin was discovered, something Aunt Rose would need later in life.
- Talking movies were invented the year after insulin.
- Neither Reader’s Digest nor Time Magazine were in existence, and it wasn’t until 1925 that Hitler published Mein Kampf, the same year the Scopes “Monkey” Trial began.
When Aunt Rose was 11 years old, Babe Ruth set his home-run record, and the first talking move, The Jazz Singer premiered. Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in 1927 and early the next year, when Aunt Rose was 12, Bubble Gum was invented.
1928 Was a Big Year
Not only because of Bubble Gum, but it was the first Mickey Mouse Cartoon, the Oxford Dictionary was published, penicillin was discovered and sliced bread was invented. No more ripping those loaves apart with your hands.
Three years later, when she was 15, the Empire State Building was completed. She told me later in life that she dreamed of going to see it someday, but she remembered thinking that New York City was a long way off (120 miles) and she didn’t know how she’d ever get there. She eventually did get there, but back in 1931 it seemed like a long shot.
Six years after that, World War II began in Europe, followed two years later by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Just as Aunt Rose was about to turn 29, the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- In 1947 the Polaroid camera was invented.
- In 1950 the first credit card was introduced. It was called Diner’s Club.
- The next year color TV made an appearance.
- The polio vaccine was created in 1952, the beginning of many advances in the field of medicine.
- 1953 brought the discovery of DNA.
It wasn’t until 1954 that segregation was ruled illegal in this country, and it took many years after that for change to happen in reality.
The TV remote control was invented in 1956, but few could afford a TV, let alone one that would work with the new remotes. I remember marveling at the possibility of remote control when I was a kid; it seemed like magic.
I’m cutting off the timeline citations here. So much happened in the past 6 decades that it would take a small book to list them. Besides, I wanted to get back to…
She outlived 10 siblings—3 sisters and 7 brothers. She outlived nieces and nephews, grandnieces/nephews, and even great grandnephews.
She lived in a time when she walked to work every day. She lived in a time when a person’s word was better than a contract rife with legalese. When it was taken for granted that if you did someone a favor it would be paid back, even though you didn’t expect it.
She lived in a time when, if a friend or relative was in trouble, people pitched in and helped. If a person lost their job, neighbors and friends brought food, sharing what little they had. Advice and comfort were always free.
She lived in a time that was better than now.
Some might argue that. I’ve had enough conversations with her to know that it was better, at least from her viewpoint. Maybe that’s why she finally went. Maybe she’s happier now.
My wife always said Aunt Rose was, above all else, a classy person. That she treated everyone with respect and respected everyone she met. When all is said and done, what more could anyone ask.
The Bottom Line
Last night I celebrated Aunt Rose’s life. I opened up a bottle of plain old Chianti and shared a few glasses with her, through my memories. Chianti is nothing fancy, but it’s a good solid, reliable wine. A wine that’s been around for a long, long time. It seemed appropriate.
For anyone who is interested, I did another post about Aunt Rose last year. You can find it here.
Ciao, and thanks for listening,