Posts Tagged ‘smart phones’

Time marches on, but memories linger

March 1, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 1, 2016

When I was a child, someone gave me a set of books by John D. Fitzgerald, the first of which was titled The Great Brain. Each volume was an episodic novel about kids in a small Utah town around the start of the 20th century. The title character, whose given name was Tom Fitzgerald, was an incredibly shrewd youngster who was great at solving mysteries and resolving problems. In one story, he outed a card shark by discovering that the suspiciously lucky stranger was using a deck that had been manufactured with subtle irregularities in the patterns on the backs of certain cards.

I only remember bits and pieces of the books, which I loved but have not laid hands or eyes upon for probably the better part of three decades. There was one story that I recall only for its opening scene. The tale, which was perhaps the last chapter in its book, started with the Fitzgerald patriarch causing a hubbub by having a W.C. — a water closet, now better known as a flush toilet — installed in the house. The other townspeople, shocked and appalled by this newfangled contraption, smirked to each other and snarked that the Fitzgerald home would shortly be awash in foul odors. Most of the Fitzgerald clan felt exactly the same way, sharing the dismay and puzzlement of their neighbors; the only exceptions, I think, were Mrs. Fitzgerald, who had long ago resigned herself to riding out her husband’s passing fancies with a certain tolerance, and possibly the Great Brain himself.

To the modern reader — The Great Brain was published in 1967 — this uproar is, of course, comical: I was trained on flush toilets from a young age, as (presumably) were my parents before me. I know what an outhouse is, of course, but the concept is still somewhat foreign to me. It’s hard, not to mention unpleasant, to imagine what cities were like before the advent of running water and modern sanitation.

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