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April 14, 2007 / Maleesha Kovnesky


You’ve done it.  I’ve done it.  Back in the Little House in the Big Woods, Pa and Ma sat around the kettle talking about how revolutionary the kettle was.  Who among us hasn’t conversed with friends about the amazing progress of mankind in their lifetime.  With all of the technical, medical and indescribable wonders of the world, it’s hard to believe that there is anything left to invent.  But there always is, isn’t there?

When I was a kid, an old (old!) man lived across the alleyway from my family.  Casey was eighty-nine when we moved in.  I was five.  He would walk over and take care of our lawn.  My parents were quite antsy about having such an elderly man mow our lawn.  But he insisted.  He said, “It keeps me alive.”  Casey took care of our lawn for years.  He was 94 or 95 years old, still out there mowing and raking.  I’ll never forget the afternoon a gust of wind blew him over.  My mom ran over to him to help him off the ground.  He was fine.  I imagine that after surviving the Depression, two world wars, polio, two flu pandemics and the threat of the A-Bomb, a little wind wasn’t going to take him out. 

Casey had outlived just about everyone he ever knew.  His wife had died in the 1940’s, decades earlier.  My brother and I were tasked to go talk to Casey every other afternoon.  To kids, it seemed like a chore to go talk to Casey.  Besides the fact that his home had that distinct old man scent, Casey was damn near deaf.  When we tried to comment on his stories or ask him questions to feign interest, we had to shout,  I mean, really shout into his ear.  The best part about visiting Casey was the end of the visit.  He would slowly stand up from the kitchen table, amble into the living room, and open a drawer on a long, dark cabinet.  From here he would reach his blue-veined hand into its depths and retrieve a piece of old-man candy, usually a butterscotch disk.  But it was sugar, and that was enough for us. 

Eventually us kids caught on to the fact that sitting with Casey was not a chore.  It was fascinating.  This man, born in October of 1896, had seen it all.  He saw cars come into fashion.  He saw electricity and plumbing become commonplace.  He was there to see radio, telephones, and television become the norm.  He saw aviation progress from Kitty Hawk’s brief contact with air to massive 747’s carrying hundreds of people to all corners of the globe.  The things Casey saw in his lifetime were mind-blowing. 

I was in high school when Casey’s organs stopped working.  My dad took him to the hospital because he was in pain.  It became clear that Casey was going to die soon.  The hospital wanted to keep him, but Casey didn’t want to die in the hospital.  My dad drove him back to his home where he soon died, a house he had built in 1913, surrounded by framed photographs of people long dead. 

It was a good end to an amazingly long life. 

The other day at lunch, some friends and I started talking about inventions.  “What in the world is left to invent,” we all pondered.  “What will our children see in their lifetimes?” 

For some reason, I immediately remembered the day when my family got a microwave oven.  I can’t remember how old I was, but I remember we had to drive out of town to buy it.  It was a $700 piece of equipment.  We drove it home, excited to bring such a scientific and modern appliance into our kitchen. 

My mom and I set up the microwave.  We read the instructions carefully.  Welcome to Microwave Cooking, it probably said.  The manual included a few recipes to help us get started.  The first recipe was for a hard-cooked egg.  We cracked open an egg and placed the contents into a coffee cup.  We followed the instructions carefully, placing the cup in the center of the microwave and setting the timer to sixty seconds (we were sure to rotate the cup 45 degrees 30 seconds into cooking). 

The egg that we pried from the inside of the coffee cup was circle-shaped, rubbery, and weird.  It was awesome!  Amazing!  We just hard cooked an egg without even having to boil water.  What a wonder. 

Now I wonder what possessed us to pay $700 to cook a rubbery egg. 

I wonder a lot about what Casey would think about some of the inventions that he never got to see.  The Internet.  Nanotechnology.  Robots that learn.  In my mind, he would take in this new information and nod slowly.  He would sit back in his red chair, at his kitchen table, and offer us a butterscotch disk. 

Deep down, he would know that we haven’t seen anything yet.


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  1. dvrobin / Apr 14 2007 4:13 pm

    I remember when my parents bought a VHS VCR in the early 80’s or late 70’s. They paid like a $1000 for it and it was the coolest thing. Compared to today’s VCRs and DVD players it was clunky.

    The other thing I remember was when my dad brought home our second computer. We’d had one for a while, but this one had a “Hard Drive” that allowed one to store 20 megabytes of data. My dad (who “knew about such things) commented that there was “no way anyone could ever use up that much space”. Of course, in that day, we didn’t store music files or have games with graphics. Basically, it was just text files. Amazing when you look at today’s computers.

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