At a certain age, you don’t know these things

By Rich Tarrant

“I live upon a raft of words. / My compass is the wind / And the changing tides of time / My friend.”

When I recently came across an article, which appeared in The Vermilion News on July 19, 1917, I became curious about the person who authored it. It is a historical sketch by a gentleman named Christopher G. Leimbach recounting various developments in the Brownhelm area over the previous half-century or so of his life. He was born in 1853.

It’s an interesting piece that mentions going from candles to lard fueled oil lamps to electricity; from the old one-room schoolhouse with slab seats to a “modern building”; from using oxen in the fields, to horses, to machines; from sickle and cradle to reaper and then binder.

A hundred years after the fact this information is informative of course. But it also makes me stop and think about my own life – what I’ve seen transpire in my lifetime. It really doesn’t seem all that dramatic. However;

Just the other day a young girl about 10 or 11 years visited the history museum and was puzzled by an old dial phone on display. I asked her if she knew how to work the apparatus. She stuck a finger in one of the dial’s cells, but didn’t really know how to work it beyond that.

When we showed her how the dial turned she moved the entire dial with her fingers, but still didn’t really understand how it worked. I believe that even when we illustrated to her how to dial the phone she probably still didn’t understand how it worked. [NOTE: It is a bit odd even to me who grew up with the device]

Anyway that’s not what really seemed odd to me. The little girl didn’t understand how one listened and talked with the handset part. Nor had she ever heard a dial tone. It had never occurred to me that a person wouldn’t know how to use that part of the device.

The point I’m trying to make here is that all the things (i.e. improvements technological and otherwise) that seem so obvious and common to many persons (such as myself) are not so obvious, not to mention common, to young people. As an example, the jump from dial phones to push button to touch tone cell phones that do everything but cook dinner (and that may someday be quite possible) is enormous. These changes tend to pass by so quickly and subtly that they are nearly imperceptible to many of us – at least to those of us “of a certain age”.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant is Curator of the Vermilion History Museum and a son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at:


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