Mason County News
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009 • Posted July 1, 2009

What Happened to the Art of Conversation?

Quite some time ago while talking with Shagnasty I asked him when he thought the decay of family conversation as it was in the days of our youth first began.

Then, in tones he loves to use in order to impress his listeners, he said “In the oft used words of Bob Dole, I will say that in my view the art of family conversation began to disappear with the emergence of radio.”

“Long gone” he continued, “are the days when families welcomed friends and neighbors for drop in visits - when they sat in that swing on the front porch or in their living rooms to discuss topics of the day as well as the juicy bits of gossip circulating throughout the town. While the adults carried on this type of chatter the children were outside - the boys playing out-law and sheriff while the girls played jacks.”

Oh lordy, I thought, I’ve got him started again - and to confirm my convictions he launched further into of his discourse of the past. Knowing him as I do I had no doubt that he will add his thoughts on the present and will perhaps include his predictions for the future.

Warming to his subject he proceeded “With the advent of radio both adults and youths alike tuned their sets to programs such as Fibber McGee and Molly, Henry Aldrich and Jack Benny and tuned out the intercourse of family discussions including the dialogues of old time friendly visits. Gone were the days when drop in company was welcome and the expression most heard when a knock came on the door during prime time was why can’t people learn to stay at home.”

“Soon the children themselves became addicted to the lure of radio and the games of old such as kick the can and hide and seek were replaced with their desire to hear Henry Aldrich say “coming mother” and to hear that eerie voice advocating that “Only the Shadow knows.”

“If the art of conversation was diminished by radio it was practically demolished by television. The only thing that has appeared on the scene to rescue it from oblivion are the low long distance rates offered by the competing communication systems. These low rates are great inducements to those too lazy to write letters and have in fact played a great part in reviving the lost art of conversation. They also act as a stimulator of conversation as I, for one, have found it more frugal to call long distance on birthdays, anniversaries, etc. than to send cards.” And now with the coming of the cell phone that can be carried anywhere conversation could be regaining the prominence it had back in the early days, I interrupted with “Just a minute feller. Hells fire, all I asked you was when you thought that family conversation first began to disappear - and - while I agree with all you say I wasn’t expecting you to drag the telephone into your answer even though I do recognize that it is the carrier of a major portion of today’s conversations.”

“Hold your tatter” said an irritated Shagnasty, “you asked me a question and I propose to give the subject a thorough washing before I let you hang it back on the line.”

“O K Shag” I said, “get all of your dirty clothes out of the wash pot - and don’t forget to use the rub board on some of your arguments.”

“All right” said a now happy Shag, “the subject of conversation is not one to be discarded easily for although radio and television might have shortened family talk time to a great degree it seems to have had no effect on the conversations of the older generation when they have the opportunity to talk about their ailments.

To forestall such lengthy discourse one must craftily avoid asking that age old question of “How are you feeling today?” Nothing seems to delight the elderly more than to talk about their aches and pains and those listening can hardly wait for an opportunity to show the speaker where they hurt the most.

Two other subjects which lend themselves to the role of conversations to be avoided are politics and religion. They seldom remain in the discussion department and quite often evolve into vociferous arguments and should rightfully be placed into the category of items “not to be touched with a 10 ft. pole.”

We are told that in the course of conversation: we should be leery of an inquisitive person for they are oft times merely funnels that pass on what they hear to others; while we often forgive those who bore us, we find it exceedingly difficult to forgive those whom we bore, and it has been said of a person who talks too much that his occasional flashes of silence makes his conversation much more delightful. Then too how would you feel if someone said “Your ignorance cramps my conversation”?

I will end this dissertation by saying that of all the topics of conversation available to mankind the one most popular is the weather - nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if we didn’t have frequent changes in the weather.

Now Bode, just what was your original question?”


A memory from 1955:

In 1955 while my mother was visiting relatives in San Saba the big house where she and papa lived catches fire in one of the upstairs rooms. Although the house was not completely demolished it was declared a total loss — and that dear reader was the end of my stories emanating from the”the big house.”

That is the end with the exception of this one last story: While digging through the ruins of Mama’s library she found an unharmed book with Tommy Brook’s name in it — handing it to me she asked “When did you borrow this book from Tommy?”

Looking at the title I found that it was a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. After thinking for a moment I said “It must have been somewhere around 1925 because that was about the time we kids were reading all of those “Tarzan of the Apes books.” “Well then” asked Mama, “ don’t you think it’s high time you returned it?”

And that is exactly what I did. Some months later seeing Tommy in the City Drug Store I said “Tommy, I’ve got a book I borrowed from you out in my car.”

“I don’t remember loaning you a book lately Bill” said Tommy.

“I didn’t suspect you would Tommy, cause I borrowed it some 30 years ago and now I want you to be able to testify that I do return the things I borrow.”

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