Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

The Goober Baton Gets Passed to a New GenerationOne of my favorite childhood memories was the Thanksgiving Day when the Venable and Anderson families in Tennessee assembled under one roof and made a long-distance call to Uncle Tom and Aunt Fannie Stuart in Texas.

As any member of the Long-in-the-Tooth League can attest, long-distance telephoning was more complicated, not to mention more expensive, back in the day. None of this punching the area code and the number and instantly chatting. The plateau of high-tech excitement was considerably lower.

You had to go through an operator and choose your preferred mode of contact: person-to-person (more costly), station-to-station (less costly) or collect (cost borne by the recipient.) Then it took a moment or two for the operator to plug in the wires.

So what happened when Uncle Tom and Aunt Fannie answered? Did hearty well-wishes immediately commence? Latest news exchanged? Sports, weather and politics discussed?

Heavens, no. All the grownups — passing the household’s lone receiver back and forth, of course — spent forever behaving like goobers from the 19th century. On the order of:

“Fannie, is this you?”

“Yes! Who is this?”

“It’s Angie. I can’t believe we’re talking to each other.”

“I know! It’s just like we’re in the same room together! Let me give the phone to Tom.”

“OK, I’ll give this one to Eva.”

“Tom, are you there? This is Eva.”

“Yes, this is Tom. Why Eva, I can’t believe we’re talking to each other.”

“I know, it’s just like we’re in the same room together! I’m going to put Big Frank on now.”

“OK, I’ll give it back over to Fannie.”

“Fannie, are you there? This is Frank.”

“Yes! Why Frank, I can’t believe we’re…”

And blah-blah-blah until every adult brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew (and heaven only knows who else might’ve wandered in off the street) exchanged “I can’t believe …” while all us youngsters rolled our eyes and nearly choked from suppressed laughter.

Thanks to Zoom, a passel of Venables, Terrys, Deatons, Hunters and Hills celebrated a recent Thanksgiving Day “together although apart.” With the click of a few computer keys, the chasm between Tennessee, New York, Florida and North Carolina was reduced to a mosaic of smiling faces.

Naturally, the initial conversations began on the order of “Why, Ronny! You’re right here with us! Happy Thanksgiving!”

And, “Why, Spencer! You’re right here with us! Happy Thanksgiving!”

On and on. Over and over. Blah-blah-blah.

At least the Venable, Terry and Hill youngsters had it easier than we did a generation ago. They could click off their computer screens to roll their eyes and stifle a laugh in private.

Sam Venable is an author, comedic entertainer, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. His latest book is “The Joke’s on YOU! (All I Did Was Clean Out My Files).” He may be reached at