Living in the Machine Age

When I was very young, my father occasionally tucked me in bed at night with a bedtime song. The ones I particularly remember are “Down by the Old Mill Stream” (lyrical) and “Does the Spearmint Lose its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight” (laughable). But my very favorite was “Come, Josephine, in my Flying Machine”:

Come Josephine in my flying machine
Going up she goes! Up she goes!
Balance yourself like a bird on a beam
In the air she goes! There she goes!
Up, up, a little bit higher
Oh! My! The moon is on fire
Come Josephine in my flying machine
Going up, all on, Goodbye!

This chorus was performed with vocal theatrics and gestures that delighted me, Daddy’s voice rising in pitch and volume on the “uuuuUUUPPP she goes” part as his hand swooped over unseen air currents.

It was actually decades later when I realized that my childhood vision of a flying machine was completely unlike what the songwriter had in mind. (I guess you could say I’m a little slow on the uuUUUPPPtake.) By the time I was born, people called them “airplanes.” So when Daddy sang about a “flying machine,” my four-year-old, female brain pictured a sewing machine zipping around in the air with two people astride it — a pre-Harry-Potterish fantasy. Perhaps understandable, given the generation gap. More disturbing is that the image was so fixed in my memory that it didn’t even seem odd to me until probably forty years later when I had the OMG! moment in which I suddenly realized what a flying machine was after all. Poor Josephine — she had been riding around on a sewing machine all those years!

In my collection of family photos, I do have one that shows a vintage sewing machine. The picture below was taken in the dining room of the Wild family home in Fonda, Iowa. On the left wall is a treadle sewing machine with two drawers on the left side. I believe this photo was taken about 1905, so the high chair in the room could have been for either Laila or Erma. In the right corner is a chifferobe on which is displayed a silver coffee urn, which is now in my brother’s possession. The ceiling fixture appears to be one which was originally gaslight, converted to electric, with the electric wiring draping from the rear wall to the center of the room and held up out of the way by a cord suspended from the ceiling. Not sure this was “up to code”!

Wild Fonda house

Another newfangled gadget was their hand-crank telephone on the back wall of the dining room, which, of course, they would have had because my grandfather was at that time a bookkeeper for the telephone company and his brother-in-law was a manager there. The picture below was apparently taken at the phone company office; penciled handwriting on the back of it identifies the woman as my grandmother, Louise, so maybe she worked there as well, as a switchboard operator.

louise wild4

All of this goes to show that Bob Dylan was right when he “prophesized with [his] pen” (but I’m pretty sure this was never in my father’s repertoire):

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changing.

Hey, I’ll bet I could download a ringtone for that on my cellphone.

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