One of my favorite elbows-on-the-carpet reads was the reprinting of the 1902 Sears Catalog that was one of the nifty pieces of late-seventies nostalgia that my grandmother kept in her balsam-scented telephone cabinet. Everything about it was neat, despite my steadfast belief in the world of the future as envisioned in my yard sale copies of mid-sixties Popular Mechanics magazines, and the neatest thing of all were the Heidelberg Giant Power Electric Belts.
“Joe-B, are you readin’ about those electric belts again?” she’d ask in the sweet Baltimore brogue that’s fast retreating into memory. “You and those electric belts. You know, I’d have thought you’d be lookin’ at the brassieres, but it’s always those electric belts.”
“Eighteen dollars was a lot in 1902,” I opined.
“It’s a lot now, too.”
“But for it to cost eighteen dollars in 1902…I wonder what they were for?”
“It’s right there in the description, Joe-B.”
“I don’t understand what it’s saying, though. Here, where it says ‘The suspensory encircles the organ, carries the vitalizing, soothing current directly to these delicate nerves and fibers, strengthens and enlarges this part in a most wonderful manner.’ What does that mean? What organ?”
My grandmother, who rode into the world on the tail of Comet Halley, was never one to mince words, but in response, all she could do was laugh.
“It ain’t the pipe organ in church, hon.”
She had to raise her mother-of-pearl catseye glasses to wipe away a tear.
“You talk crazy sometimes, Mama Gee. Why’s that so funny?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older, okay? Just remind me.”
“How much older?”
“Umm…thirteen. I’ll explain it when you’re thirteen.”