The Parents’ Generation

Are we always once removed from history?

It’s hard to believe that those men in the black and white movies — the ones with side parts, baggy suits and ties — are half my age.  They will always be older than I am because when I saw them first, they were.

Even in their thirties and forties adults in b/w photographs appear older, to me.  I suppose I associate the idea of “grownup” with the styles of the time.  It’s more than that, though.

It could be because they’re the generation from whom we learned.

When we were growing up, World War II seemed long ago and far away.  It is unimaginable the Holocaust happened just twenty years before I learned about it in school.  Today twenty years ago isn’t that far back.  Is it?

History is always then.  It was.

My grandmother’s family in an early Auburn automobile.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking through 100 year-old letters written by my grandparents.  As the events of their day unfold, I learn about farmers planting extra acreage for the war effort, neighbor boys enlisting or being drafted, and the desire to “get that old Kaiser’s hide.”

I also catch parallel glimpses of future generations: teasing younger siblings about “going on the chase;” planning surprise birthday parties, family get-togethers, or just the day’s meals; wondering what’s going to happen next.

Just as their letters are primary sources now, yours and mine soon will be.  Except we haven’t written or saved as many.  Our grandchildren will look back on visual images of us that were far faster, easier, and plentiful — but fewer letters and journals where they can get inside our heads.

I puzzle at colorless photographs and movies and letters with pristine loops.  That was then.  Style and technology are different now, but the living of life is not.  I guess that’s where history and the present meet up, and we’re all the same age.