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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

My First Radio by Elvidio Mejia

When I was a child living in the Sierra Maestra, Guatemala in the 1960s, we were disconnected from all forms of modern life. The only means of communication were the letter and the telegraph.

In my village, the teacher was the only one who had the honour of owning a radio. Every day he would listen to Mexican ranchera music - the music of the rural people of Mexico. Neighbours often asked him the time because no one had a watch. 

One afternoon, a lady was walking faster than usual towards the teacher and said “Professor!” The teacher looked at her with surprise. “Yes, my dear,” he answered. “Sorry professor - does your radio sing?” she asked. “Yes, it sings” he responded confidently. “Can it sing ‘Adelita’ for me, please?” she said. “Maybe later - the radio is tired,” the teacher replied, smiling.

After listening to the lady’s request, I understood that it wasn’t only children who thought that there were little people inside the radio, talking and singing all the time.

A few years later, my father traded a goat for a beautiful red and white Panasonic radio. Each morning, he opened wide our house’s lone window at 5:00 a.m. and placed the radio on the window sill, so that the entire village could listen to Mexican ranchera music at full volume as people began their day. I would lie in bed a little longer, learning the songs which became the soundtrack of my childhood.

Batteries for the radio were expensive and hard to find. We had to walk one hour to the next village to find them. Sometimes we would take the batteries out and put them on the earth floor so that the humidity would make them last just a bit longer.

On Sundays, I would see a group of people gathered around my father’s radio, listening to a soccer game while lying down on the grass. Whenever a team scored a goal a huge explosion broke the silence.

In the late 1960s my brother came from Guatemala City, bringing my father a shiny new radio with a record and tape player. When my brother left for the city a few days later my father told him, “Bring the radio back. I already have one. Plus, this one uses more batteries. And where am I going to find records and tapes here?” 

Once in a while, my mother would yell “The radio stopped singing!” from where she was working. My father grabbed the radio with his hands, hit it twice on the back and it would continue to sing. Each time I visited my father, he always asked me to fix his radio.

My father’s house was destroyed by a mudslide in 2005. My father passed away in 2010, but his treasured radio is still there, in the same place in the kitchen, its’ colours faded to yellow and pale red, its’ pieces kept together by bits of cloth, holding fifty years of memories.

Elvidio Mejia is from Saint-Lambert, QC

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