Some things don't change

In the days when my main mode of transportation was a bicycle, there was a “pocket size” 9 transistor radio displayed in the window of the Montgomery Wards Catalogue store. Most of the items in the catalogue had to be ordered and typically took one or two weeks to be delivered, but there were a select number of items that the store had in stock and you could have them the same day that you bought them. I admired that radio. I can’t remember what it cost, but it was more than I had at the moment. I remember worrying that by the time I saved up the money the radio would be sold to someone else and I would have to wait until one came, which would add even more time to my waiting.I also remember imagining what I would do if I had the radio. I could see myself holding the radio to my ear with my left hand while I road around town steering my bike with my right hand. Riding my bike one-handed wasn’t a problem for me. I thought that I would be about the coolest thing going if I had music while I made my way around town.

I can remember buying the radio. I had a few bills and a whole pocketful of change that had to be counted out on the store counter. I had a paper route in those days and frequently had a few dollars to spend in the Wards store. I have a clear memory of buying a flexible flyer steel runner sled as a Christmas present for my younger brothers. It cost $4.95. You can still buy that same sled for $129.99 at Cabella’s.

Anyway, I don’t remember much about the radio. I can remember that it was one of the first devices I had ever seen that used a 9-volt battery, which was rectangular instead of cylindrical. The battery had two terminals on the top and the connection to the radio snapped to those terminals like grippers.I also remember that reception with the radio wasn’t very good. We didn’t have a radio station in our town. I could dial in the transmitter that was 30 miles away, but I didn’t like their music that much. What I really wanted to listen to was the music from the big city 80 miles away. It would come in, accompanied by quite a bit of static. Pulling out the long antenna helped, but that was less effective after the end of it broke off. It turned out that riding a bike while holding the radio wasn’t exactly as problem-free as I had imagined.

I was thinking about that radio the other day as I watched part of the keynote at the annual Apple developer’s conference. They had just announced the new iPhone 11. The new A13 Bionic chip in the phone has 8.5 billion transistors. I’m not sure what you get for all that extra money. My phone has only 6.9 billion transistors according to the company web site. Still, I can listen to whatever I want from my phone. It will pick up radio stations and it will play music that is live streamed I can talk to my phone and ask it to pay a specific song and it will do so. I have wireless headphones that mean that I can listen to music hands-free with the phone in my pocket.

The device is cool, but I’m sure that in the days of the 9 transistor radio, I would have preferred the device that other people could tell I was using. Something unseen didn’t have the same appeal to me in those days. I also could not have imagined the computing and communications power that I take for granted today.

Sometimes it seems like things have changed so much.

But there are other things that don’t seem to have changed. In our pantry is a cylindrical cardboard box, red on the top and blue on the bottom with a white circle in which is the head and shoulders of a long-haired white headed man in a dark blue had and jacket with a white scarf around his neck. It looks exactly like the box that was in our home when I was a child, although I once had a discussion with a friend about whether or not the box used to be blue on the top and red on the bottom. The contents is the same as well. The rolled oats look, smell and taste the same. I can remember when the company came out with “Instant” oats that could be cooked in ten minutes in a sauce pan instead of half an hour in a double boiler. The innovative difference was that the oats were smaller so they cooked faster.

In our home cold cereal was a summer food and we didn’t eat much of it in the winter. Hot cereal was the staple of breakfast, often served as a first course followed by eggs and toast. When I was a baby it was determined that I had a sensitivity to wheat products, so in place of the wheat cereal that was ground from the hard red winter wheat grown on my uncle’s farm and transported in buckets to our home and ground in a small home flour mill, we had oatmeal. My uncle grew oats, but the oats were all reserved for animal feed and we bought oatmeal at the store in the red and blue box.

That cylindrical package first made its appearance in 1915. But that time the Quaker Oats company had already started printing cookie recipes on the box. The story as I heard it is that the company had nothing to do with the quaker religion. The man on the box is just a stylized picture of what some artist thought a quaker might look like. The Quaker Mill company was founded in 1877 in Ravenna, Ohio. Founding partner Henry Seymour found an encyclopedia article on Quakers and decided that the qualities described - integrity, honesty, purity - were the identity he wanted for the product. the name stuck.

These days you can buy “old fashioned” steel cut oats in the store at a much higher price, but in our home that cylindrical box is considered to be a staple and I suspect that you could find the rest of the ingredients for the cookies - butter, eggs, brown sugar, baking soda, flour, cinnamon and, of course, raisins - in our house without having to make a trip to the store.

Not a bad way to start the day. The cereal, not the cookies. The cookies aren’t a bad bedtime snack, though.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!