Before There Was Google
By Ron Page
In the 1950’s, our farmhouse and outbuildings in northern Illinois sat along a straight gravel road atop a little drumlin, or whale-shaped hill, left by the glacier. From our somewhat elevated perspective, we had an unobstructed view of the flat nothingness surrounding us – nothingness in the sense of nothing but corn to the horizon in all directions. Coming home late at night always seemed a bit eerie to me, particularly when the northern lights made an appearance. Our little hill was the obvious landing spot should any extra-terrestrials choose to make a visit. It was a perfect for a Stephen King novel.
Given this setting, you can understand our desperate search for information when confronted with the abrupt arrival of something “unknown”. It arrived during the night. When we finished our chores and went in for the night, everything was normal; when we awoke the next morning it was not: there was a basketball-sized white globe in the middle of our lawn!!!. We set about cautiously inspecting it. My parents, both of whom grew up in the country had never seen anything like it. What it was made of, where it came from, and why it appeared overnight was a mystery and an extra-terrestrial origin seemed plausible. We needed answers and we didn’t have Google available to us.
To solve this mystery, in that pre-Google time, we had to pull out all the stops and go to our fountain of information and seemingly all knowledge, our think tank in Ashton, Illinois, population 800: — -the barber shop. Leaving a cloud of gravel dust in his wake, my father drove the eight miles to town and turned over his found object to the barber shop crowd for analysis. As expected, no one present at that time could identify it and it would take the normal one week of research to come to a conclusion regarding our large white ball, as customer after customer would examine it and offer an opinion.
The barbershop clientele included not only a mix of the local population, but out-of-towners, and our community harvested data from them as well. For example, salesmen traveling out from Chicago, 80 miles to the east, always passed on interesting information. A lot of people representing a lot of professions and life experiences would have the opportunity to see our mysterious object.
In the end, it is hard to say who solved our mystery. Maybe it was another farmer, a teacher, or a biologist who inspected vegetable crops for Del Monte Foods – or maybe it was more of a group effort, but, after the customary one-week turnaround, the result was in: what we had was a giant puffball mushroom. How reassuring to know it was not from another planet.
Have you noticed that old-fashioned barber shops seem to be on the decline? Are we losing this forum for political exchange, news about our neighborhood, and source of knowledge about such things as giant puffball mushrooms? Is it possible Google is responsible??