Being raised in the agricultural part of the Midwest gives you an appreciation for wide open spaces, stewardship of resources, and farmers who work very hard to produce crops and livestock to feed the world. Regular blog readers will know that my parents were raised on farms in western Iowa, and three of my four grandparents were as well. Our roots here are deep, dating from the 1850’s. I was raised in a large city close to the farms, but I have relatives who still live there or in the small towns nearby.
My grandparents lived on their farms until they were in their later years. As is the custom, they “moved to town” and relatives did the farm work. I saw them frequently, and other than my maternal grandfather, they lived long lives. I don’t think their generation ever had a name. Their children, however, were part of the Greatest Generation that came of age during the Depression and World War II. My parents lived and worked in the city, but remained very connected to their rural roots. Both generations were used to limited resources and periods of hardship, being very attuned to the weather, and limited modern conveniences. I frequently think that they would find things we experience regularly in 2021 as strange, funny, or both. So here’s my list.
Weather– this is great place to start, because farmers follow the weather closely since their livelihood depends on it. Our local tv stations still focus on the weather a lot because of our location. But most of their forecasts are wrong, and would probably get a chuckle from the elders.
Let’s start with naming weather events and winter storms. This has happened a lot in recent years. I have learned what derecho is (basically a bad wind storm). We have also had winter storm names for about 10 years, courtesy of The Weather Channel. Anybody remember Snowstorms Abigail, Billy or Constance from 2020? Me neither.
I think my elders would have found all of this strange, and a little silly. In the Midwest, we have winter storms. Lots of them. They can occur anytime from October to April. Sometimes we get a lot of snow, and wind that creates large snow drifts. We don’t name these events, but we do occasionally remember a really bad storm by its year- The Blizzard of ’52. That could be 1852 or 1952- these tend to live in infamy. To get a year of remembrance, it has to be really, really bad- several feet of snow, huge drifts that close roads, and being home bound for days.
The other thing they might have found amusing is the “wind chill factor”. My elders would have layered up or down depending on what the weather was like, and it really didn’t matter how cold it was. The work had to be done regardless. Cold is cold, and in January and February this isn’t much a surprise. Bundle up and head out the door.
What did they rely on? They had rain gauges, outdoor thermometers, and windmills. Radio stations gave a lot of weather information. And don’t forget the Farmer’s Almanac-still in print and probably as accurate as some of our local tv forecasts, which are notoriously wrong. This in spite of super duper 4d doppler radar. They do well with severe weather as it is occurring- but forecasts? Not so much.
All of this has created a strange mix of skepticism and panic among the locals in the winter. If you live in a city, it’s pretty rare to be home bound by the weather in 2021, but there is something in the dna of most of us that creates a rush to the grocery store if any snow is predicted. Add in Covid shortages and it was survival of the fittest getting bread, milk and the holy grail of toilet paper last winter.
Technology- fancy watches that are basically a computer on your arm would have been a true wonder for the elders. Their telephones didn’t arrive until the 1930’s, and were party lines since they lived in the country. No need for social media when you can just pick up the phone and eavesdrop! They found radio broadcasts and eventually television entertaining, but anything beyond that was a bridge too far.
The first technology I tried to introduce to my parents was a VCR in the 1990’s. They had grandkids visiting who wanted to watch videos, and I thought they would find it helpful. It didn’t quite work out that way- even with step by step written directions, they couldn’t get it to work unless one of said grandchildren was there to help. When we sold their house in the mid 2000’s the VCR was still there, flashing “12:00”, connected to an ancient tv in the basement. But they did try.
In fairness I should mention that my mom learned to use email in her later years. She never mastered initiating one, but she was able to reply and that was useful to stay in touch with far flung children and grandkids as they went off to college. The speed of her computer was a challenge since a dial up modem was her preferred connection to the internet for many years. But we got that changed at some point, and it worked pretty well.
The things we do with all of our technology would have been a surprise as well. I think endless selfies and pictures of food that is about to be eaten would rank as the two of the most curious photos that are shared on social media. I also find these amusing, so that is probably an indication that I am in the elder years now too. But I do have Twitter and Snapchat accounts, and I even know what Tik Tok is, although I doubt I will ever post a video unless Geriatric Tik Tok becomes a thing.
Other Stuff-The immediacy of everything would also have been a surprise. There wasn’t any fast food or meal prep delivery, so meals took time to prepare and were almost always eaten at home. Farm wives also knew how to cook for a crowd since it was expected when hired help was around.
Newspapers were powerful vehicles for communicating, and fortunes were built from their ownership. The idea that someday they wouldn’t be mailed or delivered to your door wouldn’t have occurred to them.
I think the lack of civility and being a good neighbor that seems prevalent today wouldn’t just surprise them, it would probably make them sad too. In order to survive in our harsh weather, farming communities have always been among the most helpful and friendly. Long before Go Fund Me and Meal Train websites, my elders helped anyone in need that they knew about.
This continued when we moved to the city where I still live. There were only 300,000 people in Omaha when I was born the 1950’s. According to the most recent census, we are nearing 1million. That is getting too large for me, but I like the fact that there are still a lot of small town traditions that carry on.
On the local news recently, there was a story about 10,000 donated backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need. When the pandemic closed city swimming pools last summer, a local donor paid to open them. Food banks and local churches have been doing heroic work as families continue to struggle with the effects of the Covid pandemic. This sense of community and generosity is so common here I think we take it a bit for granted. I hope it never goes away.
So how will technology affect us in the future? What will happen when the drone delivers dinner to our front doors, and we can’t find the family robot to retrieve it? I think it’s safe to say there are inventions on the horizon that we will find curious and amusing. Hopefully our children and grandchildren will keep their Boomer elders up to speed as we learn the new fangled things that become essential to everyday life. And as a Facebook post I once saw said, they should always have patience and keep in mind that we once taught them all how to use a spoon!