Give me a cheap one

Outdoors columnist Larry Dablemont reminisces about a childhood without smartphones.

Once a newspaper editor asked me if I ever tweeted! I told her, “Shucks ma'am, I can’t even hardly whistle.” She laughed at me, and I didn’t know why.

I got laughed at again yesterday. It’s because of these darn new contraptions I can’t get the hang of. I bought another simple $20 cellphone this past week to haul around in my pocket just in case I am out in the woods and a tree limb falls on me or I get attacked by a bear and he wins the fight. Then I can use it to call for help, maybe.

About half the time my cheap phones don’t work unless you are on a mountaintop. It works on this mountaintop where I live, but only if I go outside my home! I disdain what they call a "smart" phone. What a laughable term that is … smartphone. A phone can only be as smart as whoever bought it, and if you pay several hundred dollars for a phone I can buy for 20, I don’t look at you as being real smart.

When I told the lady behind the counter I don’t know how to use a computer except to write on, and it took me a while to learn that, she said her 11-year-old kid can use any kind of computer or smartphone, and she and another lady waiting in line laughed at me ’cause I can’t. I started to take offense at that but decided to just write an answer to that for her and all you smartphone people. Here goes …

Lady, when I was your age, they didn’t have computers and when I was 11, as your son is, I sure as heck wasn’t sittin’ on the couch looking at a box and twiddlin’ my thumbs on its buttons. I was out on the river or in the woods. So let me tell you what I COULD do then that your kid CAN’T. First of all, I could pack my boat with some gear and float down the river as straight as a string and not make a sound. And with what I put in my johnboat, I could live in a cave along that river for a week and enjoy it.

I could catch a fish to eat in a dozen different ways, and I could clean one and cook it over an open fire. I could catch a sack of bullfrogs with a carbide headlamp and nothing but my hands. I knew how to make hot sassafras tea and I knew what tubers and berries and plants I could eat and which ones would make me sicker than a cow eatin’ cherry tree bark.

Oh yeah, I knew the names of 30 different species of trees in the woods and what each is good for. I knew how to skin a raccoon and stretch its hide and tan it with ashes. I did that once and made a cap out of it, but my mom burned it. Your kid don’t know how to do any of that. And he can't start a fire in the woods without two boxes of matches and a can of gasoline. I can do it with neither.

Your 11-year-old kid that is a whiz with the computer can’t make a box trap or set a snare or make and use a leather sling like David konked ol’ Goliath in the head with, but I could. I could also use an ax when I was 11. Had to, ’cause when I was only a kid, and my dad wanted me to keep the wood box full.

I could call turkeys and bobwhites and owls with nothing but my mouth, and I could have told you what made any track you can find in the woods.

I’m not braggin’, lady, but when I was 10 I had already kilt more squirrels and rabbits than your little boy will bag in his whole life. I took city folks fishing in a wooden johnboat when I was only 11 and made 50 cents an hour for doin’ it. Bought my own huntin’ boots at the army surplus store when I was 12 and had my own shotgun when I was 13. I had pet owls and crows and squirrels and raccoons and two good coonhounds and a pretty fair squirrel dog in my barefoot days, and swam necked with my cousins in Indian Creek when I was too short to touch the bottom in a hole I can wade across today.

I learned to milk a cow when most city kids were learning to ride a bike, and by the time I was 14 I had worked in a pool hall for three years with a dozen or so old-time outdoorsmen who said I could out-lie the best of them. But right now I ain’t lyin', I wouldn’t trade the life I had back then for all the smartphones in the world.

And I know you think all that isn’t important. Maybe, but you don’t know what is coming, and I think maybe I do.

Hard as it is to believe, when your kids are much, much older, those smartphones are going to be meaningless. They will see a day our country's cities are dangerous places to be because of millions more people, and different wars being fought just for survival. I foresee natural disasters like fires, floods, mudslides, droughts, tornados, viruses and heat and cold going beyond anything we have ever seen or can imagine.

Before 80 more years have passed, nuclear bombs, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, meteorites, and plagues and famines will be a tremendous factor in whether and where mankind survives.

So if that comes about as I think it will, a nice cave beside a creek, where men can survive the cold or the heat and know how to plant and harvest potatoes, tomatoes and corn in a clear spot in the woods would really make for a good life. He would need to know how use animal hides, scrounge for food and live without coffee. And he might raise a family and do better than a man who knew all there was to know about computers, smartphones, apps and twitters in what is left of a city.

I guess I ought to say here that I’m just jokin’. All that ain’t really gonna happen, it’s just a figment of my imagination. But wouldn’t a world like that make a good fiction book?

Technology like we have is gonna get better, and when robots are fully developed and all nations will be getting rid of nuclear weapons, we’ll look back on country folks from a hundred years ago and know they would have done anything to live in those future times decades away. Sure they would have!

And as for when I was 11, I would have given anything to trade my johnboat for a smartphone. I wish I could have spent my time playing those games with my thumbs on a couch instead of hunting squirrels or fishing for catfish. Of course I would have!

And tell me … is this the cheapest phone you’ve got?

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