Denise Etheridge Column Teaser

Being new to The Walton Tribune, I am learning my way around. This is not easy for someone who has no sense of direction. My dad used to say I could get lost inside a paper bag.

Fortunately, my trusty Android phone’s Google Maps feature tells me how to get from point A to point B. Younger folks likely take this for granted, but having a disembodied voice tell me where and when to make a turn, and get me safely home on a dark, rainy night after covering a city council meeting is immensely comforting. Then again, getting lost used to be an adventure.

Growing up on Long Island, my mom and dad would take us kids on weekend trips to the Catskills, to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and sometimes into New York City. Though more often then not, we visited relatives in the New Jersey or Massachusetts countryside. Yes, there are farms and forests in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.

There were no cellphones, no Google Maps. There was the large paper map one bought at the neighborhood gas station. Then there were the countless stops for food, restrooms and gas when my dad would again ask for directions. Since my dad was Parisian French, not everyone understood his accent — like the Amish we met in Pennsylvania. Still, they were kind and did their best. Mom assisted by always pulling a pen and notepad out of her enormous purse and writing down specific directions.

If you had to make a phone call on the road, you made sure to have change for a pay phone. I think phone booths and pay phones have now gone extinct.

Cell phones would have been handy when I was a teenager. If you ever watched “That ’70s Show” you get the idea. We had two landline telephones in the house: one on the wall in the kitchen and one on my parents’ bedside table. When a friend called and we wanted to talk boys I had to rush to pick up the phone in the kitchen and stretch that cord down the hall, around the wall and into the living room, cupping my hand over the receiver, loud whisper and hope our conversation was private. Yeah, right, my mom had ultrasonic hearing and could hear every word. She also had eyes in the back of her head, like all mothers.

Years later when my husband and I were first married we drove from Washington, D.C., to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Frank was a young second lieutenant in the Air Force – butter bars they called it – and we were headed to his first permanent duty station at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. Our married life began with a home on the literal range. This was in the 1980s and the CB radio was still a trend when traveling. I don’t remember what our handle was, but the big rig truckers would let us know when troopers were around. Sometimes we could hear their conversations. Most talked about where they were stopping for lunch, or about how many days they’d be on the road again before getting home to their families. Kind of like the Willie Nelson song.

That was some trip; we left the end of March and arrived in April, which means we experienced fog, wind, rain, sleet, snow and tumbleweeds traversing from the East Coast to the high plains of the West. When we got to Cheyenne and pulled up to our cinderblock quarters on post — a leftover from World War II that has since been torn down — our cocker spaniel spied little inquisitive heads popping up across the field behind the housing units. She took off after those prairie dogs like a ball in a pinball machine.

In today’s world, I wonder if I could get along without my mobile phone. Would I ever be brave enough to go off the grid? I use my phone for everything; it’s an address book, a planner and a news source, and provides mindless entertainment or music. I can check my bank account balance or shop. When I forget non-important trivia like a celebrity’s name, I look it up on the internet. When a family member isn’t well, I check out medical information sites. We look up everything on our phones from what movies are playing (maybe post-COVID) to ordering dinner from the fabulous Cambodian restaurant Bowl of Flame in Porterdale. I don’t do Twitter or TikTok, like my kids, but I do graze Facebook now and again.

We do have a rule in my house, as my parents did before us. No phone at the dinner table. It gets put on silent. Cellphones are valuable tools in our daily busy lives, but the need for real human interaction takes priority. At least for a hour or two each evening.

Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The

Walton Tribune. Her email address is

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