Saturday, January 07, 2006

#106 - As the Century Turns

A phrase I no longer hear is "turn of the century," as in, "My grandpa was born just after the turn of the century." It's a phrase that always (to me, anyway) meant that we were discussing something that was really, really old. Older than my parents, for crying out loud. Older than dirt.

Since anything that happened before I was born was considered archaic (by me, anyway), my parents and grandparents were living anachronisms. Many of the advances in technology that they experienced left me scratching my head. I remember one grandmother showing me an old reel-to-reel tape recorder that dated back to the 40's. (Note: I would kill to have this machine in my possession today!) I remember thinking how ancient that thing looked, and was frankly amazed that it ever was able to record anything. It even had a microphone of the type that talk show hosts think are so stylish today. You know... the ones that look like braunschweigers made of chrome with holes drilled all over. I was fascinated by it. For a long time I had a hard time remembering that this machine was something from "my" century. I would have sworn that it hailed from the days of Abraham Lincoln. That's what a lack of historical perspective will do for you. In my mind, everything that happened before 1958 was all lumped together in one historical mush.

Mom was never one to dwell on the past, but Dad loved playing the "when I was your age" card. It is, perhaps, paradoxical that Dad never really revealed a heck of a lot about his childhood, but he loved to throw out little snippets here and there, as if being a child of the Depression earned him the right to point out that we pampered papooses had no idea what suffering was all about. He was probably right.

We'd be driving along a dirt road on one of our always underappreciated vacations through some forsaken piece of California history, and Dad would say things like, "You think this is bad? This was a superhighway in Idaho when I was your age!" Yeah, yeah... save it for your memoirs, Dad. (This, unfortunately, never happened. The closest thing Dad ever wrote to a memoir was making editorial comments in a history that his mother had written. Ah, well... we take what we can get.)

Now, as a parent, I'm pretty sure I'll be just as bad about "when I was your age" with my own children. The difference being that I'm pretty sure my kids will learn more about my life than they ever care to. I just talk too much, really, and I happen to be my favorite subject. (This may be, by the way, my only fault, but only if I don't ask Mrs. Woody about it.) And the funny thing is, my children will be able to identify with their own "turn of the century" in a way that we never could. We were born in the middle of a century, and the turn of a new century is merely that - another step in the ol' chronometer of life.

The Woodyettes, on the other hand, will be able to look back on their times of birth and have a nice, round figure from which to base their experiences. One was born in '97, the other right at the end of '99, and for both of them their personal memories will begin sometime immediately following the beginning of both a new century and a new millenium.

I find myself wondering what marvels these girls of mine will witness over the next few decades. Certainly there are promises in the air: New cures for debilitating illnesses; advances in technology; the potential advent of extra-solar travel; deeper understandings of the intricacies of life. And all the while, Mom and Dad will become more and more anachronistic, just as my parents did when I was a kid. How could these old fossils be hip enough to understand all these wonderful things we have today? Didn't Daddy used to listen to wax recordings on a Victrola? Wasn't Mommy born before they discovered electricity? Were flutes even around when Grandma was a little girl? (No, Grandma had to carve hers out of bamboo. I don't think flutes were invented until I was about 5 or 6. At least, that's the way I remember it.)

Thus it is that Woody's job will be to take the "when I was your age" experiences and meld them with the Woodyettes' "turn of the century" mentality to create the proper historical perspective for them. They'll probably laugh at me a lot, but in the end they'll have a wealth of experience that they will then be able to pass on to their own children.

They'll thank me for it later.

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