If you ever find yourself in need of a good conversation starter, just throw out those two tried and true words, “Remember when?” Tack the phrase “we used to” onto it and you can talk for hours — at least if you are with folks who are astute enough to remember the things they used to do.
I spent the past week camping on Jekyll Island. When we camp, we spend our evenings sitting around a campfire, sharing thoughts and stories with friends and family members we have camped with for decades. There are a lot of “remember whens” thrown around when such a group gathers.
Someone brought up cell phones. I think they were making fun of me because I was put out that it took almost 90 seconds for one of my photographs to be uploaded into space and circulated around the world and beyond. Everyone started trying to remember how we ever got along without the ability to record our every moment and communicate on the World Wide Web.
“Remember when we were camping and had to walk down to the camp store and wait in line at the pay phone?” someone asked. Most of us did, but not all. My son Jackson was with us. He is 22 and I am sure he is familiar with the term “pay phone,” but not at all certain he has ever used one.
Once we got on the topic of cell phones we went through the whole litany of their evolution — beginning with the bag phones that we used to carry around in our cars. It was a big deal to pull it out of its satchel, plug it into the cigarette lighter, and make a call. And in those days you always, always, always announced to the person fortunate enough to receive your call that you were “calling from a ‘car phone.’”
I actually had someone tell me last week that she was calling from her land line. I suppose that was a novelty for that person. Can you say “full circle?”
Naturally the older people in the group poked fun at the youngsters — those of us in our 50s — with comments like, “I remember when cell phones came out and people actually used them for talking instead of typing on them with their thumbs.”
I was not paying close attention when the conversation took this turn, though, because I was watching the NCAA Finals on my I-phone.
Eating at home was another topic we covered one evening. It seems that everyone in our group did that with amazing regularity as children. And by amazing regularity, I mean virtually each and every meal during the course of a year. Naturally that topic led to the advent of fast food and chain restaurants, and we all tried to remember the first McDonald’s we ever patronized.
I am pretty sure mine was at Candler Road in Decatur. I am also pretty sure that you had to order at an outside window and eat in your car. There were no Big Macs on the menu and a regular fry was the size of the one that comes in a Happy Meal today. America had yet to be Supersized back in those days.
At some point in the conversation Disney World came up. I think my kids were a bit appalled to hear that there was a time when Walt’s entire world consisted of what we now call the Magic Kingdom. I tried to explain to them how the ticketing system worked and the significance of the term “E-ticket ride.” They weren’t real sold on the Country Bears Jamboree as a major attraction.
We weren’t nearly through. There are a lot of “whens” to remember when you have a whole week’s worth of campfires to sit around. We remembered when we all camped in tents and nobody used electricity and my father-in-law recalled that the first time he came to Jekyll Island he had to come over on a boat. The bridge had not yet been built. None of the rest of us go back quite that far.
Childhood memories got a lot of attention. We remembered building forts and bicycle wrecks and skate keys. And we remembered long, long summers away from school and nickel Coca-Colas and lemon sours and cherry smashes at the drug store soda fountains of our youths.
It is funny how the mind works, isn’t it? Every memory anyone took the time to remember was of the precious variety. We left all the bad ones locked away in the recesses of our minds. And so it went, late into each blessed night of our vacation.
The days? Well, the days were used for making memories to remember while sitting around future campfires.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.