At One With Aunt Bertha 

When I glanced at my wrist, the girl seated next to me said, “You still tell time on a watch?” When I asked a fresh-faced nurse to call my home phone with my test results, she raised her eyebrows, ”You still have a landline?” “Don’t bother with Snapchat,” a nephew advised, “It’s for young people.”

I’m annoyed when others assume I’m technologically inept because I’m old. But I’m also amused. Their comments remind me of the fun my family had when the telephone reached the rural community where I was raised, and older folks acted like a dangerous stranger had come to town.

Because of Lake Shore’s sparse population and remote location, Mountain Bell took its time finding us. My siblings and I watched the slow progress of the line crews and thought if we got a phone, we’d be too old and deaf to use it. Our cousins who lived in Provo increased our anticipation by demonstrating their telephone’s entertainment value. We took turns calling random numbers and burping at length in the ear of anyone who answered.

After weeks of waiting, the summer day arrived when a lineman, whose tool belt dragged his pants dangerously low, entered our yard and perched atop a pole to connect us. Bob and I, in a frenzy of excitement, provided a demolition derby for his amusement: Bob rushed at me pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tire; I defended myself with an abandoned baby buggy loaded with Barbara. The lineman looked alarmed and quickened his pace.

After the phone was installed, we stampeded when it rang, hoping to be the one to answer, then stayed to listen to the conversation. When no one else was around, I dialed the operator over and over, disguising my voice each time I said, “Time, please.” My fun ended when an operator replied, “Little girl! Stop it!! Right Now!!!”

Quickly recognizing the possibilities of a two-party line, Barbara and I quietly lifted the receiver and listened when we heard Anderson’s ring. Then Mrs. Anderson stopped by our pew at church and said, “Little pitchers have big ears, don’t they, girls?” She must have been disappointed when we looked puzzled rather than abashed.

Dad said we could not call anyone without permission. Mom explained a new monthly bill made him nervous; he thought we should limit the phone’s use until we knew how much it would cost. She felt certain he’d settle down eventually. But for years, by the time we said the second syllable of hello, Dad yelled, “You’ve been on that phone long enough. Hang up.”

Aunt Bertha

We didn’t bother to stifle our giggles when we visited our great aunt Bertha and she used her phone. She held it away from her ear so her hearing wouldn’t be harmed, then complained that people mumbled. She also spoke tersely and hung up without saying goodbye when she deemed the conversation finished. Eventually, Mom discovered our thrifty aunt thought she’d be charged by the word — like a telegram.

Once, after giving me ice cream and cake to “satisfy my sweet tooth,” Aunt Bertha confided she often ignored her ringing phone, because she refused to be interrupted by an “irksome nuisance people use for no good reason at all.”

Now, sixty-five years later, I drive to Steamboat, ignore the sparkly tune I programmed for my ringtone and feel a close kinship with Great Aunt Bertha.


Caught In a Net

Colored butterfly in the green grid

Shortly after I began writing a weekly column for the local newspaper, I was pondering a head of lettuce at the local supermarket when an elderly gentleman with gray bushy eyebrows, a battered cowboy hat, and a painful-looking limp wheeled his cart my way.

“Hey, you! Yes, you.”

Startled, I looked around, but saw no other shoppers. Was he talking to himself or me? Finding either alternative alarming, I clutched my lettuce and prepared to flee.

“You’re Janet Sheridan, right?”

I nodded. In my hurry, did I cut him off in the parking lot? Or, heaven help me, had I run over his foot?

Without altering his stern expression, he limped on by, tipping his hat as he said, “I like your columns, young lady. They read real good.”

No words could have pleased a fledgling columnist more. When someone finds something of worth in my words, I feel my writing has served a purpose beyond my own enjoyment and self-fulfillment — which is why I started a blog.

Unlike my columns, Aunt Beulah invites readers to communicate with me and makes it easy for them to do so. In addition, the potential audience includes bloggers: writers of all ages and nationalities who amaze me with their insights, skilled use of words, and insistence on quality. Some have become friends.

Much as I enjoy these interactions, however, a state of critical self-examination about my writing has pursued me for some time, like a collector stalking a butterfly. Most of the time, I manage to ignore the hovering net. Caught up in the ease and comfort of producing writing I’ve learned how to do — newspaper columns and the mini-columns I write for my blog — I flutter happily about, enjoying the attention my efforts earn.

But I’m not totally oblivious. Occasionally, the net descends and unbidden thoughts intrude, give me pause, make me question.

Have I become lazy, a one-trick pony? What has happened to my desire to create poetry, to write fiction, to tackle darker topics? Do I busy myself with columns and blog posts and comments in order to avoid stretching my wings? Does the writing I do interfere with the writing I could do?

And, if so, is that a problem? Is it OK to ride the currents in the mountain meadow where I am without thinking I should be making my way up higher peaks?

When, in life, is it permissible to drift in place for the pleasure of doing so without seeking growth or improvement?

I sometimes wonder if others question themselves as I do in terms of developing and improving their talents, hobbies, or passions;but  usually I decide that whether to linger in a comfort zone or take on a challenge depends on where we each are in our individual lives.

So I’ve decided to put my debate aside, to explore the meadows where I find myself, and to enjoy the reader interaction I relish —at least for a while.

And I tell myself that my mental agitation means I’m still interested in nurturing my mind, exercising my talent, and increasing my chances of aging well. Aunt Beulah would be proud.