Time Travel

My grandmother, born in 1897, was six when the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk; she was sixty-one when the Eagle landed on the moon.  Think of the scope of that: from being earth-bound to having the promise of the stars, all within one lifetime.

When we talk about time travel it usually involves science and technology (be it never so retro), or fantasy dream scapes or time-walkers or magic of some sort. Not to mention the good old Rip Van Winkle trick of going to sleep under a tree and waking up a few decades later (or doing it in reverse like the Connecticut Yankee).  But we’re all time travelers.  We don’t notice it because, as the old commercial says, we’re soaking in it: we’re used to moving through time one second after the next.

As I’m writing this, my father is closing on his 98th birthday: he was a toddler when World War I began, came of working age during the Great Depression, was trained to fly during WW II, worked briefly for David O. Selznick of Gone with the Wind fame, watched as the Cold War brewed and the US got involved in Vietnam.  I watched the Watergate hearings with him.  A couple of years ago he saw what would have been a utopian fantasy in his youth come to pass: the election of a black president.  When he started his working life as a designer, you did layout with rubber cement, rulers, an X-Acto knife and a good eye; he understood and even appreciated the computer tools now available to the designer, but still preferred to “get his hands into the work.”  He embraced the answering machine but disdains the cell phone.

At Christmas this year Dad sent me a book called American Caesars, by Nigel Hamilton. It is patterned on Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars, and chronicles the path of the presidents from Roosevelt through Bush the Younger.  The parts I didn’t live through were fascinating because so much of it was new to me; the parts I remember were fascinating because they poked and prodded memories and impressions I don’t examine that much.  And the book, over all, reminded me that I’m living through history, taking notes.

I’m now past the half-century mark (except in my head, where I remain stubbornly 27) and I find that I’ve lived through a lot of change.  Watching an old movie with my daughters, I realize how much attitudes toward women, toward people of color, toward our place on this planet, have changed.  The fear of instant nuclear eradication which was the constant white noise in my childhood has become, for me at least, a low-lying anxiety about how we humans can bring things to the brink of disaster and pull back just in time, over and over again.  But I’ve also seen humans become, often against their will, more open to others.  I wish that prejudice didn’t exist, but I remember a time when it was codified into law and the law lauded for it.

If I make it to 98 (in 2051!) what will I have seen?  We all travel through time one second after the next, looking back or peering forward, sometimes forgetting now.  Take notes.  This is history, and you’re soaking in it.


Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason,  and a double-handful of short stories which are available on her bookshelf.  She has just finished The Salernitan Women, set in medieval Italy, and a new Sarah Tolerance novel, The Sleeping Partner (which will be out in fall of 2011 from Plus One Press).  Her first Regency romance, Althea, will be available in April from Book View Cafe


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Time Travel — 7 Comments

  1. My grandfather was born in 1890. He was a child in rural Kent, and never saw a motor car till he was twenty. And twenty years before he died, men had walked on the moon. No matter what more is coming, I’m not sure we can ever beat the span of that.

  2. I recall listening to stories from my spouse’s grandmother, who was born in 1888, about what Los Angeles was like when she was a girl. It really did seem like a completely different world: the west end of Beverly Hills, for example, was a meadow on which people gathered to watch motor car races, at which the cars would reach the fantastical speeds of . . . thirty miles an hour!

  3. Even now, I begin to feel like I’ve lived through a lot–including technologically. Particularly when talking with my kids, who are boggled that hand held calculators were a new, cool thing when I was their age–and cell phones and personal computers were the stuff of SF novels.

  4. Overheard conversation in a cafe between a Baby Boomer and Gen Y-er, about Walkmans … “Only 12 songs? Where’d you download that from?” … I just about choked on my chai latte!

  5. I’ve been thinking about this same sort of thing a lot, only I’ve been thinking of it as traveling backwards in time instead of forward. When my father (now 92) was about 6, he sang “Dixie” at a Confederate veterans’ reunion. That is, when my father was a kid, he knew people who fought in the Civil War. Right now I’m reading Empire of the Summer Moon, which is about the Comanches, their fierce raids all across Texas (and other parts of the Great Plains all the way down into Mexico), and their ultimate defeat. Quanah Parker was still leading Comanche warriors throughout Texas when my great-grandmothers were small children, living in that area. I knew my great-grandmothers. It just wasn’t all that long ago that things were very different. Yeah, we’ve time traveled, but it’s been a fast trip and we shouldn’t dismiss that very recent history as ancient.

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  7. Someone born about 1812 would have predated trains and could live until Kitty Hawk and heavier-than-air flight.