Furby, in history

Our daughter visited recently from Seattle. It has been over two years since we were together. Although we speak and see each other at least once a week via Duo, nothing replaces the warmth of a hug. Memories bubbled up as we talked of day-to-day experiences, lives in motion.

One such memory was of a trip Shari and I made in September 1999 – wow, before the turn of the century. It brought to mind the universal hubbub about the impact of Y2K. It was THE topic everywhere we went. How would it affect computer systems thereby creating chaos in finance, hospitals, governments, and on and on? Here we are twenty-three years later bumbling through totally different worldwide cataclysmic issues that will become memories in another quarter of a century. Living through history. Thousands of people worked vigorously to make the smooth transition as Shari and I blithely enjoyed our travels in Europe, occasionally pondering if the world as we knew it would still exist on January 1, 2000.

Fun memories of that trip by far supersede the worries of a world in turmoil. One such memory is of our Furby. It was the sort of A-I fad of the time, an alien-looking, hamster-sized toy that spoke in its own language and “acquired” our language as you talked with it. We stayed with friends in Wiltshire, England just a few miles up the hill from Stonehenge. Yes, we visited the four-thousand-year-old Neolithic monument to man’s ingenuity and were awed by the power that emanated from there.  Who knows what historical events colored those day-to-day lives? That’s another story. It was at their home where we met the then trendy sensation, Furby. Gail and Brian introduced us. We had a lively evening of discussion with a well-trained Furby and I was smitten. Upon our return to London, I immediately went to Harrod’s to purchase our little friend. Shari and I spent an evening talking to Furby. He told us his name, but it escapes my over-stuffed file drawer of recollection. What remains, however, is the startled reaction of the Parisian cab driver when Furby spoke up spontaneously from the depths of my carry-on bag nestled next to me in the backseat of his taxi.

We were being driven from Charles de Galle airport to our small hotel on Rue Augereau near the Eiffel Tower. Shari and I both had rudimentary French from school, so we figured between us we’d get along just fine during our visit in France. We did not expect Furby to be part of any conversation. At a stop light, Furby decided to join our halting discourse with the cab driver. It uttered some words of Furbish mixed with English in its little voice. The cab driver’s head swiveled in a snap to look at us. He said (in French of course) “Who’s that? I picked up two ladies at the airport. When did we get another passenger?” I hurried to pull Furby from my bag to show him it was a toy because I couldn’t find the words in my basic vocabulary to describe it. He continued to drive but kept a close eye on us from his rear-view mirror. Furby made a few more remarks as I fumbled to turn him off. When we arrived at the hotel, I handed the toy to the driver and explained as best I could what it was. Then we laughed but I’m sure it is a memory he retained. We all survived Y2K and Furby resides on a shelf as a reminder of that trip. He hasn’t spoken a word in nearly twenty-two years.

The Blessings of Grandparents

I read a post, Nostalgia, by Cerebralintrovert yesterday (https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/134502934) and it happened to coincide with a short piece I recently wrote and presented at our library writers’ forum about my great-grandparents, Nellie Mae Hutchison and James Uriah Kasenberg. Children who have good memories of their grandparents are very lucky indeed in these days of scattered fractured families. I am very fortunate to have known all four grandparents well, plus three of my great-grandparents. Of course, I wish I had asked more questions of those wonderful people about their lives. All were born before the 20th century dawned, ordinary lives in extraordinary times including the aftermath of the civil war and reconstruction, two world wars, a worldwide depression, the 19th amendment, and consequential inventions such as the telephone, automobile, airplane, electricity in homes, typewriter, and camera.  Things we take for granted impacted their lives in new ways. I’m sure they had inciteful words to offer beyond, “don’t get too close to the creek when it’s runnin’ hard” or, “the dust will still be there tomorrow, so go have fun today” or, “good manners don’t cost a thing and are a gift you can give everyone.”

I spent many Sundays, holidays, and celebrations at the Kasenberg home in Wichita Kansas. We were blessed with a close family that even included some ex-wives of my great-uncle Jim (a crowd in itself). When I became an adult and tried sorting out the relationship of the grownups in our “family”, I discovered some were not really related. They were neighbors or church friends of my grandparents. They all rated the name Aunt or Uncle because they were always around at family gatherings.

Two of my bonus cousins were the daughters of my dad’s best high school friend. My grandparents lived next door to their grandparents in the little town of Anson, Kansas. I called their grandmother, Grandma Meyers, but as a child was never clear how she was MY grandmother too. (She made the BEST egg salad sandwiches.) Later in life, those two “cousins” became step-cousins when my dad’s sister, Nina Maurine, married their father, Mervin. Nina Maurine and Mervin had been an item in their country high school. But Nina Maurine fell madly in love and married a handsome local farmer (a Clark Gable lookalike) and became a rural housewife with three sons.  Mervin went on to college, married, had two daughters, and became a successful businessman. Decades passed. Mervin’s wife died. A few years later after Nina Maurine’s husband died, Mervin asked her out. The rest, as they say, is history. The old flame rekindled when they were in their 70s.

Oh, the stories I have about my family are priceless and were generously passed along to me. I’m very sure every family is endowed with stories and wisdom of generations, but we don’t seem obliged to pass them along. In other cultures, in distant times, before writing became universal, a designated person was told the family stories and given the assignment of orally passing them to the next generation. I mourn the loss of that cultural tradition. I applaud all biographers and memoir writers who strive to keep the links between generations alive. I’ve committed to telling my grandson our family stories as part of his birthright.