Lately I've been thinking about Granny, my father's stepmother. Her name was Cassie.
Cassie was born in Donegal in the late 1800's. Cassie and her sister married men who were brothers, and the two couples came to the US to make a better life for themselves. They worked hard and saved up to buy a farm where they built a duplex-house so they could live as they worked: side by side. They helped to sponsor other immigrants; I know because I've seen their address (an unusual street name makes it memorable) on various records at the Ellis Island website. Sadly, neither couple was blessed with children, and Cassie's sister died young. Cassie was lonely and longing for a child of her own when she heard through the immigrant grapevine of an orphaned baby.
The boy's father (my grandfather) was a distant relative of Cassie's. When his wife died of influenza just nine days after giving birth, he handed the baby off to another distant relative, bundled up his belongings and his other children, and went home with them to Ireland, never to return to the US anymore. (Indeed I did not know that he was still alive when I was well into my teens, and there was never any contact that I know of. I have never even seen pictures of either of my father's parents.) The woman who had accepted the baby couldn't care for him, so she gave him to yet another relative who, unfortunately, didn't care for him, giving him only barley water and not milk. The child was understandably sickly and not thriving. That's when Cassie showed up at the door. She said, "He ain't got no mama, and I ain't got no baby. Give him to me." That's how she became my father's mother. My father was apparently never legally adopted but he was always deeply loved.
When I was born, Cassie was in her 70's. I remember how happy she was when she taught me to pick tomatoes; she declared me a prodigy for being so clever in the garden at the age of three.
Cassie and Andrew (her husband) and brother-in-law James were very much Old Country people. It wasn't easy for them to move with the times, and things changed radically for the whole world during the years of their long lives: from horse-and-buggy days to the astronauts landing on the moon. Andrew and James always farmed with horses. I remember being allowed to pat old Dobbin the dappled horse while he was in his stall in the barn. And I remember the barn cat who liked to jump into the cabbage-washing tub for a swim. I've wondered since if the cabbages that went to market had cat fur on them; surely they must have done.
The Irish immigrant community tended to stick together, and the ladies all enjoyed lively conversations on the phone. These were very old style phones--the ones where you had to turn a crank handle to place a call to the operator who would then connect you with the number you wanted to reach. And they were all "party lines" where anyone who was nosy enough (everyone was!) could pick up the receiver to listen in even though they didn't necessarily have any business to do so. When there was a good gossip going on, a variety of ladies might join in on the party line. Granny loved that old crank phone.
But time moved on and technology advanced. Granny managed to refuse for a time when the phone company began to insist that she get a rotary dial phone and a private line but she couldn't resist forever because, finally, her old crank phone could technologically no longer make a call. Her heart was broken.
My mother tried patiently again and again to teach Granny to dial the phone but the process eluded her. It was just more change than she could tolerate. Although she had been a lively and busy woman all of her life, Granny began, Mother said, to fail. She simply never recovered from the loss of her crank phone and the party line, and this isolated her.
Mother, on the other hand, did not like being left behind by the times. She was in her 70's when I bought her first cell phone; and she, remembering Cassie, made sure to learn to use it. She worked at learning to deal with computers, too, although with less success, and she was proud of keeping up with the new ways of the world as much as possible.
Nowadays I find myself feeling bewildered with telephone service. Recently I had to deal with a customer service representative who told me several times that I should use my Smart Phone to do something or other. He totally didn't get it when I told him that I only had a "Stupid Phone" and that I would be completely unable to follow his instructions.
I've been hearing from other people who are trying to be helpful and who want to tell me what it is that I should be doing. Like my oldest friend who visited me last month and who thought I needed to be more up to date. Like my neighbor who said my cell phone looked like something a grade school kid would have. Like any number of other folks who want me to do various stuff with a phone I do not have. None of them understand that there is a legitimate reason why I am not keeping up--it is a conscious decision. I get the unfortunate impression that I'm beginning to be considered a bit of a Luddite.
The fact of the matter is that I could get a Smart Phone easily enough but I do Not need one. I use my cell for calls and for texting but nothing else. I can't imagine paying $30+ a month extra on my cell bill and chaining myself to a lengthy purchase contract just for the purpose of having something unnecessary. I am home all the time. By "all the time" I mean for more than 23 hours a day, every day. If I want something online, I have computers; there's no point keeping a phone that does similar stuff. Yes, I know that Smart Phones do other things, too, but is that something I really need? It is certainly something I cannot afford unless I'm willing to give up something much more necessary (like toilet paper or food). Unless some situations in my life change radically, I don't see my phone situation changing either.
It's admittedly embarrassing to be unable to use something that other people cannot do without. That gives me an entirely different outlook into how my grandmother Cassie must have felt when the phone company began badgering her to change. And it makes me wonder what my mother's response would have been, although I strongly suspect that she would have gone forward no matter what, damning the consequences.
My phone contract ended with the start of this month, so the question is an open one for me. I don't think I'm avoiding change but I am questioning whether I am right to stubbornly continue with my outmoded simple cell phone. Is it okay to stay the way I am just because it makes the most sense to me or will I have to force myself, kicking and screaming, into a future that seems too overwhelming and into paying more than necessary for something that I just don't want? I have never believed in "keeping up with the Joneses" but this is something else entirely: it's about capability and coping. There are many sides to this problem.
I'd kinda like to be able to call Cassie on her old party line crank phone right about now.
Life is good.....even when technology is moving way too fast.