mike baker

Local author Mike Baker uses his love for nostalgia to remind us that progress can also be found looking back.

Many may equate the concept of progress with the creation of something new, such as a new invention. While that can be the case, I do not feel that it is an absolute. I find that I am intrigued when an idea, mechanism, or product that once was popular in the past begins to resurge in favor and popularity.

One current example is the vinyl record, which according to a report published by the Recording Industry Association of America, for the first time in more than three decades, outsold CD’s in number of units. I have several, some of which belonged to my parents, and are a little worn for the wear, but nonetheless continue to provide listening pleasure. My late father told me that one of his favorite memories of me at Christmas was when I was five, when they had bought me a record player, which they had set up playing “Jingle Bells” as I came down the hall with excitement, not only about that gift, but also about my much anticipated “Give a Show Projector,” which was high tech for 1961. Unfortunately, that record did not withstand very well some abuse from over the years, and eventually it was discarded. In my adult years, I hoped that I might be able to locate a replacement. The record title was rather obscure, “Christmas at Our House,” and for many years my search was in vain. However, thanks to the “progress” of a resource called eBay, I was able to locate someone who wanted to sell their copy, and several years ago, I once again, had a copy of “Christmas at Our House,” with popular vocalist of the day Martha Tilton’s rendition of “Jingle Bells.” Therefore, I applaud the resurgence of vinyl records.

In addition, I have eBay to thank for my being able to locate a replica of another Christmas memory, a “Sputnik” style “Star of Bethlehem” tree topper just like my late mother used on our live Christmas trees in my early years. If by chance you happened to read my story “The Other Side of January” which was featured in the Christmas edition of The Jonesborough Herald And Tribune, you will recall that the tree topper referenced in the story is this very one. I am grateful for the “progress” of the resource of eBay by which a replica of a cherished memory object could be located.

Another childhood memory is somewhat vague, at least from the early part of my childhood. By the time that I was born in 1956, radio programs were still in existence, but quickly were losing favor to the newer medium of television. I think that I may have the slightest recollection of hearing the organ music from either Ma Perkins or The Right to Happiness, which were two of the last radio serials to leave the air in 1960, when I was only four. From what I have read, by 1962 all radio programs were completely gone. As I entered my teens, I remember seeing a commercial for a record that someone had compiled of excerpts from the popular radio programs of the day, such as Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, Suspense, The Lone Ranger, and many more. I had heard my grandparents mention the programs which they had enjoyed on radio, and that increased my intrigue. My grandmother loved to listen to her “stories” [a/k/a soap operas] and among her favorites were The Right to Happiness, which was a spinoff of another of her favorites, The Guiding Light, which was the only radio serial to make a successful long-term transition from radio to television.

In late 1973 I was excited to hear that the concept of radio drama was going to be revived. With eager anticipation, I awaited the premiere of The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, hosted by E G Marshall. It was a series of one-hour original mystery dramas, and some of the actors had worked on radio programs when such programs were plentiful on the air. That series proved to be successful and ran for many years. Hence, this is another example of an old concept which enjoyed new life.

Some products are deemed to become antiquated with the emergence, as a result of “progress” of new products. The invention and the evolution of the automobile certainly eliminated the need for the stagecoach, which has been relegated to a prop used in movies set in a time period before more modern forms of transportation. Likely there would be few proponents of a return to the stagecoach [although current gasoline prices might cause one to stop and reconsider!] Despite that somewhat tongue-in-cheek aside, in all seriousness I would not expect a resurgence with the stagecoach such as has been seen with vinyl records, or the revival of dramatic radio programs in the 1970s. The preceding musings lead me to another concern that I have for a resource which I deem to have continued importance, and for which I would like to challenge everyone to reconsider its value: printed media, such as our own Herald and Tribune.

The arrival of the internet and social media has resulted in new sources by which news and other information can be communicated. While argument can be made for the speed and convenience of these resources, my concern is that these resources be regarded as supplements to, not replacements for, printed media. Often there is value in a thing for its own sake, and I think that observation needs to be considered about printed media.

In this time period, it is possible to acquire things much more quickly than in our grandparents’ generation. While not taking away from the many benefits from such “progress,” I would like to offer a few examples of things that can be better if approached in a more traditional “old fashioned” way, if you will. You will find on your grocer’s shelf several versions of oatmeal, including “instant oats” and “minute oats.” There is another version that is my particular favorite, and it is aptly titled “old-fashioned oats.” Again, a childhood memory is evoked of my grandmother cooking these oats on her stove top, and adding to the pot the raisins which I loved to have along with them. Yes, making oats using that version takes some extra time, but to me the result is well worth it. To me, “old-fashioned oats” symbolizes the extra time which we need to take, to invest if you will, in the enjoyment of simple things. I feel that another of these “simple things” to which we need to hold is printed media. Let’s resolve to take a little bit of time, at least one morning each week, to enjoy our old-fashioned oatmeal, or whatever food in which a little extra time has been invested, as we peruse the printed pages of The Jonesborough Herald and Tribune…reading the news and feature articles, pondering the thoughts expressed in the opinion section, drawing inspiration from the religion section, and taking pencil in hand to work the crossword puzzle. We can still utilize the various other more “progressive” resources as well, but there is still a time, place, and value for printed media. The tradition of printed media is by no means an impediment to progress; it is an important part of our legacy that can serve to facilitate our progression in the future.


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