Evans “Buddy” King
Like most people these days I go to Google whenever I want to find out something. I then usually think about my dad and how much he would have enjoyed the internet age and to have had the ability to find answers immediately and to know what was going on in the world.
I think the substitute for search engines in my youth was the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Junior Britannica. They were hard bound books which came in multiple volumes. I remember we had both when I was growing up in Christiansburg, but I think we bought them “over time,” my parents being frugal, and the books expensive. I recall our research capabilities being limited by the first letter of the subject we wanted to research. But I do remember the excitement of opening big brown packages when they arrived on Cherry Lane and smelling the new books. I also remember that whatever subject you went to, you were referred to another section. Most of what I recall was “See Volume IX, Lawyers for information on Attorneys”. When you got there (if you had the volume, it would say “See Volume I, Attorneys”).
I also remember our capabilities to expand our knowledge being further limited by the fact that the Britannica was updated and reissued about every 10 years (I exaggerate, probably), unlike Wikipedia, which takes about 30 seconds. But I suspect the Britannica folks did a better job of fact-checking than Wikipedia. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned hordes of balding, white-haired old men wearing “spectacles, sitting in a dusty library near London, looking at even dustier old books and newspapers and scribbling on note pads. Occasionally, they would whisper at each other, nod solemnly, and then stick their noses back in their books. Voila, in five years you would have a new volume!
The effect of this process was that by the time you got the edition of the new Brittanica, which could tell you who the prime minister of some Eastern European country was, the country had become part of the Soviet Union. These days you can find out who Tom Brady’s ex is dating in a matter of 10 seconds.
I digress, as is what I usually do in my columns. Digression feeds the beast within. I was intending to write about a recent experience going to Google. I forget what I was trying to research. As usual, my concentration was sidetracked by teasers showing which Royal was falling out with another and how little clothing one of the Kardashians had worn the day before. My short-term memory is not what it used to be, internet surfing and losing focus being the (current) version of putting my telephone in the refrigerator.
What caught my eye was a story with a headline that said something like “Amazon Shopping Becoming More Difficult.” I didn’t read the article. I wasn’t that curious. Probably another “supply chain” issue. What the subject brought to mind though was “ordering from catalogues” like my parents did in the day.
Most of the stuff we bought when I was a kid was purchased from stores on Main Street in Christiansburg or, for more difficult to find stuff, from larger businesses in downtown Roanoke. But I recall that, like most small town and rural Americans of the era, my rents eagerly browsed the tomes mailed out periodically by Sears and Montgomery Ward and a few other “catalogue stores.” Several inches thick and containing thousands of items and a page or two of an “ordering form.” I remember you had to be careful removing the form from the book. If it was torn beyond use, you had to wait another six months before you could send in an order.
In placing their order, after carefully tearing the order form from the center pages, my parents (actually my mom, I don’t remember my dad shopping much) would print the description of the item and its number on tiny lines on the form and then fill in the name and mailing address line, cut a check and place it in the envelope furnished by the nice folks at Sears, and drop it in the mail to Chicago. Six weeks later a package or an envelope would end up on Cherry Lane, containing either your merchandise or a note that your items were on “back order.” I vividly remember checking the mail every day after school for two months longing for the arrival of several Archie and Veronica comic books that couldn’t he had at Lawrence & Shelton Drug Store that I had found in a catalogue.
My mom and dad would marvel at the ease of shopping online today, notwithstanding whatever problems Amazon is currently encountering. Probably not able to have same day deliveries in some midsize cities. And the ability to have your credit card on file with every business in the world at the stroke of a key would floor them.
In my brief banking career, Visa and Mastercard were relatively new creations and I was required to try to sell them to our customers. I remember discussing this with my dad and whether he was interested. He wasn’t. I also recall him saying, “I think people could get in trouble with those things.”
Ya think ?
Evans “Buddy” King is a proud native of Christiansburg, CHS Class of 1971. He resides in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he has practiced law with the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC, since 1980. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.