How it used to be done

Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist

Throughout my career in healthcare management, I never had a secretary, an assistant or anyone to help me with paperwork, filing, monthly reports or … typing.

It’s a good thing I learned how to type in high school. I enjoyed writing for the school paper and the yearbook, The Germantown Cardinal. In fact, when I left for college, my declared major was journalism. I envisioned a future where I was working for the National Geographic, traveling the world with a camera and typewriter. So, I had to learn how to type.

Our school only had one electric typewriter, so most of our typing class learned how to type with the old, manual Royal or Underwood typewriters. For every mistake I made (and there were plenty), I had to use an odd-looking round, gritty eraser. It looked like a rubber wheel on one end, with a mini-whisk broom on the other end. Liquid paper would have made cleaning up mistakes a whole lot easier, but we weren’t allowed to use that in high school.

If you grew up in the last 25 years and learned how to type using a computer, this all may seem about like Fred Flintstone carving on a rock, but that’s how it used to be done. In fact, when I started working at Clinton Memorial Hospital in April of 1976, there was only one copy machine for the entire facility. The copies that old machine made were slightly slick and oddly blue. If the copies were left in direct sunlight, the print would soon fade. When typing policies, procedures, reports and budgets, carbon paper was my good friend. Yes, good old blue carbon paper.

I still appreciate the invention by Betty Nesmith Graham of Liquid Paper. I still use Liquid Paper whenever the auto-correct program on my laptop or home computer doesn’t catch a mistake before I print it. Betty’s son, Michael Nesmith, became famous as a member of the 1960s rock and roll band The Monkees. Easier typing and great music from just one family. Thanks, Betty.

In the Riley household of the 1950s and ’60s, all of the Riley kids had daily and weekly chores to do. We didn’t do our chores to get an allowance. We did chores because we were expected to help around the house. We were taught that our family worked together to get things done. It made sense. So, we grew up doing chores.

I don’t remember complaining about making my bed, cleaning my room, or scrubbing the bathroom (at least, not too much), but I had one chore that made me think that my folks were punishing me. It was trimming the grass around the house, the garage, the trees and the curb.

This was in the days before Weed Eaters. I had to use grass clippers that looked like a pair of scissors on steroids. On my hands and knees, I crawled about the entire yard trimming the grass with those old, handheld clippers. The mower I grew up using was an old manual, reel mower. No sparkplug, gas, pull-cord or motor — it used kid-power to cut the grass.

The blade had to be adjusted just right; too loose and some tall grass would be left uncut, too tight and the reel would jam-up and not turn. It had to be oiled and adjusted regularly. But still, I would rather mow the lawn with that old mower than crawl around trimming grass with those over-grown scissors.

Thank goodness for George Ballas. George lived in Texas. He was a dance instructor who liked to fiddle in his workshop. One day, he took an old popcorn can, poked holes in it and ran wire through the holes. After attaching the can to a rotary motor and handle, he used it to trim grass. The Weed Eater was born.

George’s son, Corky, became a professional dancer. His grandson, Mark Ballas, is also a professional dancer and appears regularly on the ABC reality show, Dancing With The Stars. Thanks, George. I always enjoy watching your grandson dance, but I truly appreciate not having to crawl around on my hands-and-knees to trim the grass. An entire generation of boys can thank George for saving them a lot of wear-and-tear on their knees.

Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine what life was like 50 years ago. Not many people had air conditioning. Microwave ovens were a rarity and most were considered to be dangerous. Heart surgery was anything but routine. Very few hospitals had dedicated intensive care units. No one that I knew of owned a snow blower. Many cars still required manual shifting to get from one gear to the next. Car seat belts were not mandatory. Kids could be seen riding and sleeping in the back window of the family car as it cruised down the road. It was legal then.

Very few people had swimming pools, but we all enjoyed playing in the sprinkler. All the kids in the neighborhood ran home just as soon as the street lights came on. All parents watched out for all the kids in the neighborhood.

Life was good 50 years ago. It was a lot less complicated and in many ways better. However, I certainly do appreciate what Mike Nesmith’s mom and Mark Ballas’ grandpa invented. It’s hard to imagine what will be invented next.

Fifty years from now, what inventions and inventors will people be talking when they compare 2066 to the good old days of 2016?

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist