The Price isn’t Right!

I am reading a fascinating book entitled, “Elsie – Adventures of an Arizona school teacher – 1913-1916.” I love American history. (European history? Not so much.) The great thing about Elsie is that the book is made up of letters to and from her family in California and the entries in her diary. 1913 was just one year after Arizona became a state and much of it was “primitive” by today’s standards. But Elsie was an adventurer and an outdoors-type individual so she made the most of it. Her letters reveal how much she enjoyed the new sites and landscapes she discovered. She never passed up the opportunity to hike to some intriguing place, with no regard for the weather. She never let rain or snow or cold or heat restrain her activities.

What I discovered from reading this true account of another age is just how much we, as human beings, have missed as we have given up personal relationships in exchange for modern “gadgets.” In Elsie’s Arizona people visited each other. They read to each other. They walked everywhere. (Occasionally Elsie will reveal a 30 mile trip in someone’s “machine” as a great adventure.) People intermingled and entertained each other with only the occasional trip to the “movies.” They played the piano and the mandolin and sang songs. They spent much time reading. (How long has it been since you have read anything other than “Oprah” magazine?) Since they ate sparingly and simply and did so much walking there were no obese people, one of today’s greatest avoidable tragedies in America.
(No matter how much she ate, Elsie never weighed more than 100 pounds.)

I have lived in my current neighborhood for about eight years. Only three times in that period has a neighbor come to my door – and I have only approached others the same minimal amount of time. I have only been “in” two of the homes and nobody from my neighborhood has been in my home. It is a novelty to see anyone walking and those are only the most devoted health “nuts.”

What do we do in our isolation? We sit at our computers and send emails and cruise Facebook and write blogs such as this. We idle away our lives with very little interaction with other human beings. Call me an old fogie (which I am) but I can’t help but think that for everything we have gained in technology over the years we have paid a high price. We have never learned the “art” of civil conversation and the pleasure of enjoying the company of other people.

I grew up without the convenience of indoor plumbing or, in my earliest years, electricity so it would not be too difficult for me to return to the simple life that Elsie enjoyed. For you, I can almost see the expression on your face. It is the same as I used to see on my children’s faces when I related my childhood. Yes, iPads and iPhones and the Internet and sleek cars and wide-screen TVs are great. But what do you do if the power goes off and your batteries are dead? Admit it. You are lost. You sit there with perhaps the closest person in your life – and you are just silent, waiting for the power to restore your “gadgets.” This is a sad commentary on contemporary life. Just as Elsie would be lost in our world, sadly we are lost to hers.

About johnbeckmanbooks

John Beckman, a retired meteorologist, was known as “Johnny the Weatherman” in a career that spanned forty years. He forecasted the weather on WSJS-TV in Winston-Salem, NC, at WFGA-TV in Jacksonville, FL, and for thirty-three years in Atlanta at WSB-TV and WXIA-TV. Also a well published author Beckman now devotes full time to writing fiction. He currently has several eBooks on, "Tropical Knights," first in a series of adventure/mysteries about a sailor and his lovely CIA cohort on a mission to save America. Now available the sequel, and second in the series: "Tropical Daze." The third Jack & Amy adventure is "Tropical Rage" which became available on 30 April 2014. All of his books are highlighted on and available from . .
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2 Responses to The Price isn’t Right!

  1. I am thrilled and blown away by your review of “Elsie- Arizona Teacher 1913-1916.” I hope you read the print copy and not the E-book. You have captured the reason I wrote “Elsie.” It is for me so much more than a history of a teacher. It is a picture of what we have lost. Elsie always had time for what mattered most, people and books. Not necessarily in that order. She was a good writer because she was first a great reader. I never knew her to waste time on cooking or cleaning. I helped her clean and she ate cornflakes, yogurt, Swanson’s TV dinners and Sees chocolates.
    I hope you take a look at my website http://www.BarbaraAnneWaite. I am not the writer that Elsie was, nor the writer that you are. I am having a great adventure in creating this memoir. I delight in notes from readers all over the world. It is especially rewarding when a man likes the book. It is awesome when anyone understands the concept of changes 100 years have created.
    I am fascinated by her years spent living on an apple ranch on Palomar Mountain. That will be the second book about Elsie. In those years 1918-1924 they survived off the land. Her father planted an apple orchard in 1906 and even today those old apple trees still produce amazing apples. In 1918 when phone lines were down people living on the mountain fixed the lines. When roads were in need of repair the mountain folks fixed them. It is a picture of survival and a picture of the joy of a hard but rewarding life.

    • You did an excellent job of conveying the “essential Elsie” After you set it up, you let her tell her story and it was a remarkable one. We have been seduced by technology. Everything that we have accepted to “lighten our load” or make our lives more “convenient” has had just the opposite effect. When I was 15 years old I rebuilt the engine in a 1939 Packard automobile in our backyard. Of course I did not have a garage car lift so I laid on my back under the car. I had never done that before, but I completely disassembled that engine, replaced all the parts with new ones, reassembled it and cranked it up. It ran like a top for years after that. I had never done that before, but it needed doing and there was no doubt in my mind that I could do it and it would work. When I had my own family in a little house with three bedrooms and one bath, I built two new rooms on it from the ground up, did the wiring and put on a new roof. I had no experience as a carpenter but that didn’t stop me. That house which had cost me $10,000 I sold 17 years later for $230.000. I did these things while holding down a full time job.
      My point is: Like Elsie I developed a strong work ethic from observing my parents. Nobody told me I couldn’t do something, so I just did what needed to be done. Today young people can’t do anything except text each other, even if they are sitting across from one another. Like Elsie, I just adapted to my times. It was no big deal. Americans have lost that confidence in themselves and that is the pity.
      One of the remarkable things about Elsie – and one I had to quote to my wife -was that she “could never love a man who didn’t love books.” When I met my wife-to-be the first time we spent the whole evening talking about books. She was so impressed that she had finally met a man who was as voracious a reader as herself, I think at that moment she decided that that we would marry.
      I look forward to your next “installment” of Elsie. I wish I could say that our current generation would learn something from her experiences. Unfortunately, very few of them can even read. But, for me, it is inspiring to read the true life adventures of a real unhyphenated American.

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