Living with antiquities, rarities and vintage whatzits

Burt's Eye View

I grew up in a museum.

I didn’t know it was a museum. No one ever stopped for a tour. If they had, we boys would have trundled them to the barn, handed them pitchforks and told them the interactive exhibit began behind the cows. Kids can be creative when it comes to getting out of chores.

Only recently did I learn that I lived in a collection of antiquities, rarities and vintage whatzits. It happened while wandering a display of nostalgia with some little twerp: “What’s that funny looking thing, Grandpa?”

“A phone.”

“Grandpa, quit teasing. That’s too clunky to fit into a pocket.” The twerp scratched his head. “Is that round thing with holes in it how you text?”

“That’s the dial. To call somebody. To talk.”

“Weird. Hey, what’s that?” He pointed at a long metal thing with a nose like a machine gun, a clamp on the bottom, a funnel on top and a crank handle in the middle.

“A meat grinder,” I said. “Your great-grandma would use this to make hamburger when I was a kid. She changed blades to chop peppers and tomatoes for canning.”

“What’s canning?”

“You pick fruits and vegetables from your garden, put them in glass jars and seal them inside a big, ol’ pressure cooker. Great-Grandma spent weeks canning so we’d have food all winter.”

“Didn’t you guys have grocery stores back then?” The twerp rubbed his chin. “If you didn’t have grocery stores, how did you get milk and butter?”

“We kept the milk in the barn. Inside our cows,” I snapped. “It was a secret hiding place.”


“Every day, we’d go get some of the milk. We’d skim the cream off the top and use that to make butter. See that jug over there with the wooden paddles in it? We’d crank that until our arms fell off and then the butter was done.”

“You’re always making up stuff. Hey, are these those tiddlywinks like you keep talking about?”

“Adapter discs. We put them in the center of our 45 singles so they fit on the regular 33 rpm record player spindle.”

He stared with uncomprehending eyes. “Talk English. I haven’t taken foreign languages in school yet.”

We kept perusing, me feeling the warmth of the familiar and him snickering as we passed shoe forms, road maps, a wringer washer, decoder rings and box cameras with big blue flashbulbs.

“You don’t want to take a selfie with one of those or you’ll see spots for a week,” I advised.

But the twerp was gone. “Look at this crazy keyboard. It has a roll bar like my mom’s Jeep. Is it in case you get into an accident?”

“That’s a typewriter,” I said. “We used them to write our school papers.”

He squinted at the machine. “Where’s the screen? Where’s the printer?”

“Watch this modern innovation.” I snatched up a piece of paper and rolled it into the Royal. “The printer is built in.” I typed a few lines. “The screen is disguised as ordinary paper.” The carriage bell dinged. “And it plays music without wi-fi or passwords.”

“You’re lucky,” he said. “I wish my laptop was that high-tech.”

I grew up in a museum, but the antiquities were modern then. And our servers never went down.

— Talk ancient times with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, at the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.


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