An unidentified call lit up my cell phone screen. “Grandpa, it’s me, Billy! I got a phone!” Yes, a ten-year-old with a cell phone. First it was a TV, then an iPad, now a cell phone. When I was his age in Rochester, New York, playtime was decidedly more low-tech. All I asked for, repeatedly, was a Daisy BB gun and an Indian Racer bike. Eventually, I wore down my parents and got them both. Electronics for kids were not yet invented, but Kodak was just across the Memorial Bridge and if you took their tour, they offered free film and a loaner camera. No one had their own cameras back then, at least no one I knew. Today’s youngsters have an abundance of battery and cable-powered toys and devices from which to choose. My Billy is also into Legos and puzzles and I push him to read with incentives. He has an interest in coin collecting and his father established a savings and investment account to encourage some good financial habits. Things are sure different from the late 1940s when I was ten years old. My savings account was one set up by my teacher in elementary school, and we were advised to deposit a few coins in a jar each week. I was thrilled with the few dollars I had accumulated at the end of the year, and it permanently instilled the idea of saving, which was far more valuable.
My friends and I played cowboys and tried to dress accordingly. I maintain that Ralph Lauren, who is of my generation, must have breathed in the western style from similar games in his youth. Soldiers returning from WWII discarded their uniforms and other surplus. To me and my friends, getting our hands on a real Army jacket was the ultimate prize. I was able to collect some of the castoffs and to this day have a few Army shirts that I still wear, for fishing at camp. Some old habits never fade, though the shirts certainly have. One of my favorite haunts as a youngster was the public library across from Ben Franklin High School. I must have ridden my bike there hundreds of times. The librarian would sit me down at a table and bring me a book. I was a slow reader and would never finish. I had no basket on my bike so the librarian would mark my place and set the book aside for my next visit. During my last trip to Rochester a couple of years ago, I saw the library had been permanently closed. My old high school is now a technical school, and the neighborhood was recently the scene of some rioting. Yes, times have changed but not always for the best. I will be returning there to visit the cemetery of my parents once the pandemic is finally under control. If science created a complex cell-phone-camera device operable by a ten-year-old, it can and will defeat Covid with a vaccine—as long as everyone is willing to play along.