When I was growing up In Central Africa in the 30s and 40s reading was the only entertainment we had. Nobody even had a radio to listen to such things as Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy. The government post must have had cable communication of some kind because Lt. Lebray brought my father a cable telling us my grandfather had died.
We were the first to have a radio on our station. It was a short-wave radio, dark grey, almost black in color. It sat in the corner of the living room close to a window. The copper wire that acted as the antenna was almost invisible where it ran out through the bottom of the window.
Outside the window, it ran up the wall, across to the nearest porch pillar and then from pillar to pillar halfway around the house. I helped my father string that antenna and we tried several different ways until we thought we had the best reception.
Half an hour before the news came on we started the 12-volt generator located on the back porch. It was allowed to run for half an hour to charge up the batteries. At five minutes of four it was turned off so the loud putt putting of the two-cylinder engine would not interfere with hearing the radio.
For half an hour everyday, twelve to fifteen missionaries, crowded in front of the radio. Those that got there first, getting the seats closest to the radio. This was adult business so we children were allowed to stand quietly at the back of the room provided we didn’t say anything.
At exactly one minute of four by the clock on the top of the radio that my dad reset whenever it needed it to conform to BBC time, my dad would turn on the switch. The three dials with wavering needles would glow yellow. Over the speaker would come the squeaking and rattling static until my dad had it tuned. Because the signal would fade in and out, my father would hover over the gray box, one hand on the tuning dial and the other on the volume. At precisely 4 PM we would hear the deep, resonant sounds of Big Ben striking the hour. After the sounds of the clock were the words, “This is the BBC, London—” and then for half an hour we listened to the news about the war.
There was nothing entertaining about the war. The only entertainment we had aside from games was books. Those books were precious. They were passed around from family to family on the station and even from station to station with the strong caution to be sure and return it.
I grew up reading such things as; Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, and my all time favorite was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is still one of my favorite books. Eventually I grew into Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner.
My mother had two “special” books. The first was Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. My mother claimed to know Margaret Landon personally and the copy of the book my mother had had been signed by her. Whether or not my mother really knew her I don’t know, but Ms. Landon attended the same college my dad did so it is quite possible.
My mother’s other “special” book was I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. The Johnsons were pioneers in the 1930s in making documentary movies about Africa and other out-of-the-way places worldwide. My parents met them when the Martins were filming in that part of Africa.
After I came to the US; went to high school, joined the Navy where I was in charge of the ship’s library so I could order the books I wanted to read, went to college and well into the 70s and 80s it was not unusual to hear someone at the next table telling a friend about a book they had just read.
Now what the people at the next table are talking about is a movie they have just seen or a TV show. And, that is the way it should be, I guess. But I am very thankful that there are still people who like to read. I do hope you are one of them. If you’ve read this post this far, well, I guess you are a reader and I Thank You!!!
Another new novel of mine, Murder Sets Sail, will be coming soon from Second Wind Publishing. This novel is not a mystery. You know from the beginning who the murderers are and who they intend to murder. Adventure aboard a sailboat from Honolulu to Hong Kong.