One of my great day-to-day joys is that, most of the time, I get to go home for lunch. It gives me a chance to reconnect every day — to see how schoolwork is going for the kids, to see how my wife is doing, to scratch the dog’s belly, to fix the printer, whatever. It’s not a lot of time really, but it’s time enough to share a meal and touch base with what matters. One day last week, I came home to find my wife had gone out to run some errands. The kids were home alone. That’s a little unusual, perhaps, but not so much as to be noteworthy. But here’s the cool part.
First, lunch was ready. Think about that for a minute. These are two teenagers (okay, one’s a preteen) and they’ve managed to get lunch ready not just for themselves or for one another, but for me too? I don’t know about you, but I was impressed.
But here’s the other thing, the thing that really caught my attention. They were both gathered around the dining room table working on handmade gifts for Christmas and listening to an episode of The Great Gildersleeve, a radio comedy series from the 1940s.
I kept thinking that, at any moment, one of the kids would tell me how swell their morning had been, and say something to me that began with “Gee, Dad, …” That didn’t happen, of course, but the scene was already wholesome enough. Any more and I might have been overcome by an urge to sew patches on the elbows of a cardigan and light up a pipe.
I should explain that we used to download lots of old radio shows and, when the kids were much younger, they enjoyed them over and over, especially in the car. So it wasn’t totally out of the blue that they would be listening to one again. My daughter subscribes to a podcast of a radio program called Adventures in Odyssey — a podcast being today’s version of the old-time radio serial, I guess — and listens to each episode, sometimes multiple times.
I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising. We are, after all, a family more attuned to words than images. My wife and I are both writers, editors, readers, and language buffs, and both of the kids have a pretty impressive command of the language, and an uncanny sense of finding just the right word.
And radio is all about the words. Without visual cues, language — word cues, intonation, speech patterns — takes on a heightened role. What’s more, your brain gets involved at a very different level because you have to interpret that language, and then construct your own image. It’s active in a way that television and movies are not.
Try it out. If you have little kids, you could try “The Cinnamon Bear” series. I don’t know it, but J. D. Roth over at Get Rich Slowly recommends it, and in my experience, he’s got some pretty sound judgements all around. There are also loads of resources available online. Just Google “old time radio.”
Of course, it old time radio is not your thing (and believe me, not all of it is my thing), check out other audio content at the iTunes podcast library. I subscribe to monthly fiction readings from the New Yorker, as well as a great series of fiction readings from PRI called “Selected Shorts.”
Of course, I still ogle 40″ flat-screen HDTVs at Best Buy and love a good movie as much as anyone, but for my money, sometimes it’s really worthwhile to turn off, and tune in.