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Going Retro

“Here’s your radio!” Lyle beamed, fishing out his phone with a flourish. I knew he was right but that’s not what I wanted to hear. “I want a real radio,” I whined, “with dials and maybe a hand crank. A solar panel even.” I pictured myself hunched over a garden bed listening to talk radio or classical music. Oldies. Radio Lab. I want something smaller than a bread box and bigger than a brick. Something in Bakelite perhaps.

I can still smell my parent’s Bakelite radio after it warmed up, the plastic casing heated by the glowing tubes inside. Bakelite was the tip of the plastic iceberg, a hard-as-rock substance made of petroleum, and the best thing since sliced bread.

When the tubes burned out my Mother would send me to the five and dime on the other end of the Island. I’d offer up the expired bulb, and the clerk behind the high counter would reach into the glass case for a replacement. I felt awfully important carrying my fragile prize home in its thin box, careful not to trip over the root-humped sidewalk.

The inside of the radio looked like an inventor’s brain. I carefully plugged in the new tube, and our living room was soon zinging with big band music. Back then, a few tubes and some wires were all we needed to produce all-day entertainment.

My retro radio craving started when I found myself becalmed in Christine outside the Post Office, catching the last minutes of the Diane Rehm Show. Days later my car radio announced┬áthat Tami was going to be on “The State of Things” –┬áthe same time I’d be weeding with a volunteer. Dang.

Toward Lyle’s point, if I got myself a smart phone I’d never miss a beat. But I’m stubborn. And nerdy. I’m sticking with my dumb phone and I want a radio.

My ears perked up when eighteen-year old tech-savvy Arlo said he was hoping Santa would bring him a film camera. “A film camera?” I asked, unsure I’d heard right. Heck, I didn’t even know they still made those things! Going retro was suddenly a whole lot cooler. Maybe the radio wasn’t so far-fetched.

It was Christmas Eve and Bob and I were draped over our living room furniture with our homies. The conversation was earnest and relaxed – not a screen in sight. I felt twelve years old, exactly how I used to feel at my Nana’s playing with my brothers, cousins, and friends.

Tami, Lyle, and Arlo were planning Christmas at home with Uncle Michael. This is their first Christmas without Zafer, another painful celebration in their year of firsts. Arlo plans on taking a gap year, brush up on his Spanish, and do some WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Costa Rica with his (fingers crossed) film camera. Bob and I are right here, happily immersed in our dotage.

A card caught Tami’s eye. She reached out and pulled it off the mantle. “You’re the anonymous friend!” I cried, and she nodded sheepishly. Everyone looked up and I urged her to read it:

Dear Bob and Camille
A gift for you from an anonymous friend –
“Love Letters from a Small Town”
Each month you will be receiving a letter containing stories about life in Bynum, N.C…

What a great idea, I thought when the card arrived. I love hand-written letters! I immediately looked it up and subscribed on behalf of our snail-mail loving friend, Shirley.

And with that, going retro officially became a trend because Tami lives on the cutting edge and she had gone there, too. My heart leapt to see the technology pendulum swing towards center, the needle pull away from the red zone. I’m not proposing we go completely retro, let’s just rein that horse in a little. Let’s make 2017 something we can hear, taste, smell, and feel!

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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