Then and now

In January 1975 I flew to Australia on a jumbo Qantas jet, every seat filled with young teachers like myself. We were from the US and Canada and we had been offered a free (one way) ticket to Australia plus three years’ salary tax free to help fill in a desperate shortage of teachers in certain states.

I was 23 years old, just weeks out of college, and was assigned to Dandenong High School in a suburb of Melbourne. I was hired to teach high school art, and that experience is a story in itself.

But what occurs to me today is how dramatically different my experience was from my son’s, who is currently living in Brisbane to attend graduate school at the University of Queensland. I just got a little pop-up on my screen saying, “Chris is on line.” At first I was excited when that happened, until I learned that guys in his house used his laptop, too, and unless he contacted me, chances were he wasn’t actually using his computer at all.

During the years I taught in Melbourne, long distance calls were so prohibitively expensive, I think I only spoke with my parents two or three brief times a year. We wrote letters, which took a couple weeks to wend their way from one country to the other. There was no such thing as “new news!” They knew in advance if I was planning a big trip or if something special was coming along, but for the most part, I wandered about, doing whatever came to hand and they may have heard about it after the fact – or not. I was definitely on my own.

How different it is with Chris! He’s presently with his friend Nick seeing the Great Barrier Reef somewhere up in the Whitsunday Islands. But I can call his cell phone, and we generally talk at least once a week. Thanks to great rates with international calling cards, I can talk with him for a total of a couple hours a month for the cost of one call back in the ’70s.

Then there’s email, instant messaging and Skype. We haven’t used Skype, actually, since Chris learned that he pays for the internet usage, whereas Skype is free in the US. He can’t afford to use bytes (or whatever) to chat when he’s trying to use the computer mostly for school (and fantasy football, I suspect!).

What’s weird is that, because of his trip to the Whitsundays, I haven’t talked to him for four or five days and I’m feeling a little anxious about it. Now, Chris is 29 and perfectly capable of taking care of himself. I’m not worried, exactly. Just – uncomfortable about being out of touch. Feels strange!

And when I think back to 1975 when my parents let my 23-year-old self go halfway across the globe with little thought as to how we’d stay connected, it amazes me. But that’s how things were done. And that’s nothing compared to those who immigrated a century before, whether to the US or Australia or wherever. No jumbo jets, let alone email and cell phones!

So – I miss you, Chris. I wish I could talk with you right now. But I’m so grateful that you’re having this amazing experience in Australia, and that I’m able to share it with you and hear your voice almost as often as I’d like.

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