Monday, February 14, 2011
Letters locked by obsolete technology
For the time being, I’m skipping the transcription of my dad’s business-travel letters of 1961 and 1962, for the simple reason I have no way to “read them.” With a few exceptions, most of them were dictated into a SoundScriber portable dictation machine, which produced envelope-sized discs that could be mailed home for the price of an airmail stamp. The SoundScriber unit my dad hauled through the dozens of countries visited in 1961 and 1962 weighed 2.2 kilos (without batteries), and ran on multiple (six, I think) C-cells.
Although the primary purpose for his carrying the SoundScriber was facilitation of reports back to his business, Dad’s family enjoyed the benefits of his machine, as well. After he finished reports for work (to be transcribed by his secretary in Seattle on her SoundScriber), he’d dictate a letter home. He could write longer letters with the SoundScriber because the tongue can wag faster than the hand can push a pen. We would receive the green 4” discs in an airmail envelope posted from his current hotel and play them on our Capehart stereo at 33 rpm. When the Capehart’s stylus couldn’t travel any closer to the center of the disc, the letter would cut off—but we imagined that we missed only a sentence or two and his routine closing, “Lots of love, Ron & Dad.”
Until I find a way to listen to them (Hubby and I don’t own a turntable any longer), the little green discs will stay wrapped in their single sheets of airmail stationery. Eventually, I will figure out some way to unlock their contents, which--if I am not mistaken--contain his observations and opinions about what was happening in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia before the U.S. was ostensibly involved with managing the outcome of Southeastern Asia's political unrest.
I am, instead, transcribing the letters from 1963, written—as were the 1959 letters—in fountain-pen ink. In an early letter of ’63, he writes about making his own ink by dissolving capsules of dried ink in tap water, and then refilling his pen. How astonished Dad would be today if he could see business travelers today writing their reports on airplanes, using laptops or other featherweight electronic devices.