Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Presents I Remember: The Radio & the Cassette Recorder

In 1972, if you wanted to hear your favorite song, you had to wait until it played on the radio. Unless, of course, you were rich enough to buy it on a 45 or the entire album on a vinyl record or cassette. Cassettes were pointless, because chances are you didn’t have anything to play them on anyway. And even if you were so lucky, if you wanted various hits from various artists, you needed to make your own mix tape.

Lucky for me, I owned a little avocado green, RCA transistor radio. My parents had given it to me the previous Christmas and throughout the year I dutifully listened to CKRC for all my favorite songs, wearing out untold 9-volt batteries in the process. So many of the hits from that year have become classics: Don McLean’s American Pie, Robert John’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and Puppy Love by my boyfriend, Donny Osmond, who I was certain would fall madly in love with me if only we could meet.

After a year of listening to my radio, my parents surprised me with my own cassette recorder for Christmas of ‘72! Halleluiah! I knew precisely how I would spend New Year’s Day. When the radio station counted down the top hits of the year, I’d be ready. I stocked up on long-play cassettes--45 minutes each side, for a total of 90. Six or so of these puppies should be enough for me to capture the day’s offerings. I set up my recorder next to my little radio, placed the microphone right in front of the radio’s speaker, and hit record as soon as they began the Top 100 countdown. I would have 100 greatest hits available at my fingertips to listen to any time I wanted! Life was good.

It required discipline. In order to get the most out of my tapes, I had to change them when they were getting too full to hold one more song without missing the start of the next. I refused to stop the tapes and listen to what I was capturing, because I didn’t want to risk missing a single song. These amazing tapes would surely carry me through my teen years and beyond!

After the #1 song was played and recorded (The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack), I finally allowed myself the luxury of listening to my tapes. 

Talk about disappointing.

While the radio itself fell a few smooth tones short of a state-of-the-art sound system, placing the microphone right in front of the radio’s little speaker was the straw that broke the camel’s ear. What I had captured was mind-numbing static with an occasional recognizable tune in the background. Hours and hours of it.

But you know what? I’m glad the tapes didn’t turn out. Why? Because I would have obtained them without contributing anything. I wasn’t buying a record or a concert ticket, I wasn’t even listening to commercials. Copyright piracy may not have been a familiar term back then, but it’s what I was trying to do. I was freely taking the hard work of composers and musicians, most of whom take years to reach the place where they can earn anything, not to mention the people who produce, engineer, and promote the work. I was stealing, plain and simple.

Now that I’m a writer, I have a better understanding and a higher regard for copyright laws. They exist for a good reason. If you wouldn’t approve of someone absconding with your paycheck, wouldn’t you think twice before copying someone’s work without their permission? Besides, it’s against the law.

If you’re listening to pirated music or watching pirated movies, I invite you to start fresh and resolve to discontinue the habit in 2016. A clean conscious is a gift you give yourself.

 Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Presents I Remember, Part IV: The Doll House

The Christmas I was seven, I had my heart set on the most beautiful tin dollhouse in the Simpsons-Sears catalogue. It wasn’t one of those old-fashioned two-story houses open in the front, either. Mine was a ranch style, with a roof that lifted off so you played with it from above. The curtains and carpets were lithographed on; the plastic fireplace, doors, and window frames snapped into place; and it came with a complete set of trendy plastic furniture. Beside the house stood a doll family consisting of dad, mom, sister, and baby brother–sold separately. For weeks I stared at the page, planning how I would arrange the furniture and which dolls would sleep in which room.

I thought I’d never survive the wait. Christmas morning, it seemed my little heart would beat right out of my body when I opened that dollhouse. I can’t remember which parent or sibling helped me put together the “some assembly required” house, but what a joy to behold when at last it looked just like the picture on the box. I artfully placed the furniture, and it was finally ready for my doll family to move in.

But alas. The sold-separately doll family did not exactly fit their new home, even though they posed so optimistically beside the house on the same catalog page. Not only were they too large to walk through the doorways, sit on the chairs, or sleep on the beds, they came with a piece of paper telling us how to order a family that would fit the house. The correct sized family was not to be found in the catalog at all.

What a rip-off. My sense of injustice and my tendency toward impatience both kicked in. I figured I’d show them a thing or two by playing with the oversized dolls anyway. I crammed their bodies into the chairs and allowed them to vault over the door frames. Poor things probably didn’t sleep much with their feet hanging off the ends of the beds like that, but then how much sleep could they get anyway with their shoes permanently on?

I managed to put in many happy hours over the next couple of years, but somehow my magnificent gift always felt a little tainted. I guess it was one of my first lessons in the greedy world of retail.

Although my beloved house eventually rusted and ended up in the trash, I recently saw the same model on a collector’s web site in all its glorious detail. I studied the photos of each room and let the memories sweep over me. The chart said this house sold for $6.99 in 1965 and would sell for $130 today. They made no mention of dolls, proportionate or otherwise.

Years later I would find it a little ironic that I spent 26 years of my adult life living in a tin house. I appreciated our mobile home most of the time, but it certainly did not increase in value and I often longed for a “real” house, with a foundation beneath and a garage nearby. Now I have that, and I love it. But even if I did not, it would be okay. You see, the baby in the manger grew to be a savior who would seal my eternal destiny. The most talented carpenter who ever walked the planet is preparing a home for me. The One who paints the sunset is choosing the colors. I don’t know what it will be made of, how large it will be, or how it will be furnished. But I do know this: I am going to fit! It’s going to be absolutely, completely, 100 percent custom-designed for me by the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself. And best of all, He will be there too! Now that’s a Christmas present worth waiting for.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Presents I Remember, Part III: The Typewriter

In Grade 10, I took first year Typing. Our classroom held about 15 desks which came in two adjustable halves: on one side of each desk sat a grey steel manual typewriter, and on the other half we placed a copy of our typing textbook, looped over a stand so it stood upright. Our teacher, Mrs. Wangsness, was kind but firm. I did well enough that year to qualify for Typing II, which I took in Grade 12. By Christmas break, I could type 80 words a minute on those clunky old manuals.

My parents must have decided it would be worth the investment and surprised me with a brand new, brown and tan Sears Selectric typewriter in its own carrying case for Christmas. I was floored! It cost over $200, a ridiculous sum for a Christmas present in 1976. It came with ribbon cartridges that you simply slid into the side and discarded after use. A secondary cartridge held a correction ribbon whereby you could type over your errors with white and, voila! Your mistakes magically disappeared. Provided you typed on white paper, of course.

I lugged that thing to typing class every day for the remainder of the school year while the rest of the class lumbered away on the manuals. It probably weighed more than five of today’s laptops, and all it could do was type! 

That spring, a nearby business college sponsored a contest for high school students and I represented my little school in typing and shorthand. (Shorthand—now there’s another story for another day!) Others on our team competed in Accounting and other business related tests.

They allowed us to bring our own typewriters, so I carted along my trusty Selectric, plugged ‘er in, and went to work. I found it challenging and more than a little stressful. At lunch time when Mr. Myers asked how I thought I’d done, I told him I felt satisfied that I had done my best. He agreed that was the main thing.

At the awards ceremony later, they called out the winners’ names starting with third place. I hoped it might be me, but no. 

As they prepared to announce the second-place winner, my hopes lay somewhere down around my feet. And I was right; someone else’s name was called.

Then they called the first place winner and I nearly fell off my platform shoes. I won! The prize was a $400 scholarship to the college which I never took advantage of, and a medal which lies tarnishing somewhere in our storage room. I made my parents proud, though, and landed a job right out of high school working in the offices of the Portage Co-op store.

I carried that old typewriter with me into married life and used it to type my husband’s college papers, crank out letters home, and create newsletters for the student wives’ club. I even earned a few bucks typing papers for other students. Later, I wrote annual family Christmas newsletters and drama scripts for church.

Sometime after we obtained our first computer in 1996 and I learned how to use it, I donated the 20-year old typewriter to MCC and I have no idea whether it still exists. 

And no, I don’t miss it.

But I’ll always feel grateful for that beautiful gift. Did my parents suspect that I would one day make my living as an administrative assistant or that I would become a published writer? I don’t know, but I shudder to think what a challenge either of these would be without those typing classes and my good old personal typewriter to practise on. It was a gift that kept on giving.

Good investment, indeed!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Presents I Remember, Part II: The Charm Bracelet

When I was in high school about a hundred and fifty years ago, sterling silver charm bracelets were all the rage. Unlike the Pandora bracelets and their knock-offs that are so popular today, these bracelets were loose and clunky and noisy. But they were the thing to wear.

I didn’t own one, but there was this boy. He and I were sort of an item, and I guess he wanted to impress me with an abundance of Christmas gifts that year. One of those gifts was the coveted charm bracelet, and he had chosen one charm to go with it. It featured two red hearts and the word “Sweetheart.” Naturally, I loved it. At first I was determined to not collect more charms but to keep only that one, making for a daintier piece of jewelry. 

Then the unthinkable happened. I looked down at my bracelet one day and the charm was missing! I back-tracked everywhere I’d been that day, to no avail. My sweetheart charm was gone.

When my dad returned from a trip to Texas with a charm for me that looked like a little map of the state, I put that on my bracelet and had it soldered on so as not to lose it. Between then and graduation, I received nine more charms: a tiny typewriter for finishing first in a typing contest (an especially meaningful keepsake now that I’m a writer), a lobster from a friend in Nova Scotia, a graduation cap, a miniature diploma, a birthday charm, and another with my initial. Each time I received a new charm, I’d make sure to pay the extra to have a jeweller solder it in place. I’d learned my lesson!

Then one day, when my brother-in-law was cleaning out his car, what did he find but my Sweetheart charm between the seats. I couldn’t believe it! If you’ve ever rediscovered something precious you thought was hopelessly lost, you understand how I felt.

Too clunky to wear, my charm bracelet has spent most of the last four decades in a jewelry box on my dresser. When our kids were little, they were sometimes curious enough for me to pull it out, tell them the stories behind each charm and about the sweet boy who gave me the bracelet. 

Jesus told three stories about lost items—a coin, a sheep, and a son. In each story, the lost thing is highly valued and missed. No stone is left unturned. The search does not end until the lost is found, safe and secure. Then a celebratory party breaks out!

He told these stories to help us understand we are precious to him. When we wander off, he pursues us relentlessly and lovingly. And when we return to him, he rejoices. Isn’t it sweet to know someone feels that way about you? He made it pretty clear that this was his main purpose when he said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10).

Of all the gifts I received that particular Christmas, the charm bracelet is the only one I still have. That boy who wanted to impress me with presents? It must have worked. Forty Christmases, three children, and four grandchildren later, we are still an item.