I was thinking about my uncle the other day; here’s a story from the past I wrote about a gift from him that I particularly enjoyed:
My uncle was in the Merchant Marine and spent most of his life traveling the world. He came to visit us once a year and brought us many wonderful gifts and unusual items acquired during his travels. He brought jackets and scarves, Japanese dolls, musical instruments, huge stacks of postcards, figurines and carved wooden boxes. But on one occasion, when I was eight years old, he brought the best gift I’d ever received from him.
When he unpacked his duffel bag that year, he handed me a small box. To my delight, inside there was a small transistor radio. Its smooth plastic body was cream on top and vivid turquoise on the bottom, and there was a carrying case of thin black imitation leather with a wrist strap. I popped in the battery and was thrilled to have a radio of my very own. I turned it on and tuned it to a local station; I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
The little radio became my constant companion that summer. I turned it on in the morning at the table when I was eating my cereal and set it on the porch while I played nearby during the day. Although I wasn’t allowed to listen to it at night as I was going to sleep, I tucked it under my pillow so I could enjoy my favorite luxury when I woke up – listening to the radio in bed, using the tiny earphone so no one could hear it but me, as if the radio and I were sharing a secret broadcast.
Sometimes I would just sit and look at my radio and marvel at the miracle of sound coming to me on such a tiny device. I had always been curious to see how things worked, so I frequently took the back off the radio case to look at its inner workings. I looked at and poked at the little transistors and admired the many colored wires. How did anyone think to make such a thing, I wondered.
My fascination with radio continued, and when my sister married a man who owned a very fine short-wave radio, I was in heaven. I asked to listen to it every time I went to visit them, until my sister began to complain that I was not coming to visit them, but to visit the radio. I listened to it every chance I got, tuning in broadcasts from around the world, dutifully writing down call letters and frequencies. I marveled that I was listening to radio stations around the world – the world! I could hardly believe it was possible.
When I married, my husband knew a man named “Skinny” who was a ham radio operator. He had an elaborate setup in a room over his garage, and a huge, powerful antenna in his yard that brought him voices from everywhere. He was reluctant to let anyone touch his radio equipment, so I just looked on in awe and envy as he spoke to people in Canada, Germany, France–and I knew that as much as I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to afford this type of hobby. But I still marveled at this ability to transmit words, music, thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams, around the world instantaneously, as if by magic.
Since the advent of personal computer and internet use, of course, communicating with the world is commonplace. I’ve been corresponding with people around the world since 1994. I talk in realtime from my netbook with my friend in Japan each week, as if she was just down the street. I live in Oregon, but I am employed by a company in the northeastern United States. My supervisors are in Florida. The work I do is for companies all around the country. This all happens from the desktop computer in my living room. Thirty years ago this would have been unthinkable, but it’s our way of life now.
However, I have never lost that enchantment with the miracle of radio. The other evening I watched a biography about Nobel Prize winner Guglielmo Marconi, considered the “Father of Radio.” It’s hard to believe that 100 years ago he was struggling to bring about transatlantic wireless communication and had not yet succeeded in doing so. He believed in the miracle of transmitting sound over long distances when many thought him mad. But he sacrificed everything to bring about the circumstances for this miracle to happen, a miracle we often so take for granted. As an eight-year-old girl fascinated with her tiny radio, I knew I’d never take it for granted. A miracle, indeed.