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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Passages - Other Thoughts

My recent post, Passages, brought the following comment from Max:

"If it's any consolation, i suspect mckinley & co. seemed farther back to you then than jfk & co. seem to us now. and i think the reason is technology. 1) we can see and hear the great figures and events of your youth in a way we cannot hear or see the events of your grandparents'; and 2) as remarkable a technological leap as you've witnessed in your lifetime, the one witnessed by your parents/grandparents generation must have been even more so - the difference between phones and the internet, while extraordinary, strikes me as less jarring on a day-to-day basis than the difference between horses and buggies and space travel.or maybe that too is just a matter of perspective."

He's right, of course. The leaps of technology, ever accelerating, seemed to approach light speed in the 20th Century, just in time to befuddle my grandparents' generation.

I vividly remember watching the moon landing in July, 1969 at my parents' house. My grandfather, Papa Hymie, peered at the T.V. through his bottle thick glasses, trying to grasp the idea that a rocket sped at 17,000 miles per hour for a few days and deposited men on the surface of the moon.

I viewed my grandfather's inability to accept the concept, much less the reality, of the feat as only a condescending 20 something know-it-all could, feeling quite superior to this uneducated man of limited imagination.

Some time later, I had occasion to re-think my judgment, when it occurred to me that Papa Hymie had been born in Russia @ 1885. He had come to America by train and ship, a journey that must have taken weeks.

He was well into his teens when the Wright Brothers first controlled their biplane in flight, and was in his 20's when he heard his first radio broadcast. One of his brothers died in October, 1918 on the Western Front and Hymie built ships in Perth Amboy, New Jersey during the Second World War.

Now, when Greg tries to explain computers and cell phones, multitasking and internet capabilities, rhapsodizing on the revoluton expected as the 21st Century matures, my own glasses blur.

But still, I suspect that the 2oth Century is going to be a hard act to follow.

Monday, December 24, 2007


There are event that cause you to pause and see where you’ve been and where you’re bound to go. For me they are the landmark birthdays — 21, 30, 40, 50, 60 — when I’ve found myself imagining or remembering what my father was at those ages.

It is often a shock to think about such things, sometimes uplifting as when it occurs to me that my father at 50 (I was then 19) seemed so old while I at 50 didn’t feel that way.

My father died 20 years ago this week. By now, most of his generation have passed. My father’s kid sister is the sole survivor of his five siblings. And this week I attended the funeral for my sister’s father-in-law, who made it to 93. My own father-in-law is about 96. No one can be certain of his exact age because he was an unreliable reporter long before his memory began oozing away.

At the memorial service, watching my generation’s children as they experienced their own rite of passage — the loss of the last of their grandparents — and watching my brother, sister, our contemporaries, it struck me that we are the elders now.

How absurd! Even when I feel old, tired, used up, achy and sore, I never conceive of being an "elder" anything. And yet I know it is undeniable.

At the dinner tables in my youth, I remember being awestruck when my grandfather spoke of seeing President McKinley, San Francisco after the big ‘quake, Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey.

My father spoke of his own boyhood experience of seeing Babe Ruth hit a home run, my mother of winning a Charleston contest, mourning Russ Colombo, seeing the Empire State Building being finished.

How is it possible that the events I relate to my son and nephews: McCarthy, Jackie Robinson, the Kennedy assassination — are as far back to them as those ancient events were to me?