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  • Summer Rerun: Time Travel

    Posted by David Foster on June 25th, 2017 (All posts by )

    Margaret Soltan’s husband was searching for his grandmother’s name on Google, and found her in a 1908 portrait, which is now in the National Museum at Warsaw.

    The post reminded me of a post from a couple of months ago by Bookworm, about finding a book in which  her grandmother’s friends at her finishing school in Lausanne, Switzerland, wrote her farewell letters when she graduated and moved back to Belgium in 1913:

    As befitted a young woman of her class back in the day before WWI began, my grandmother was multilingual, so the messages in her book were in French, German, Dutch, and English.  The young ladies all included their home addresses — in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, America, Scotland, England, Wales, Romania, and Persia (Tehran).  Each inscription was written in beautiful copperplate and the girls all drew exquisite little flags reflecting each girl’s country of origin.

    Since I, unlike my grandmother (and my parents), am not multilingual, I was able to read only the inscriptions from my grandmother’s English-speaking friends.  I have no word for how charming these little missives were.  An American girl wrote about the irony that she and my grandmother hated each other at first sight, only to become close friends by the end of their time together.  An English girl wrote about the “jolly good times” they had going to concerts with “modern” music consisting of one note, played so low no one could hear it.  Another girl wrote about the disappointment of endless dinners consisting of macaroni and disappointingly watery “chocolate creme.”

    And Bookworm’s post, when I first read it, reminded me of a passage in the memoirs of British general Edward Spears, close friend of Churchill and emissary to France during the campaign of 1940. Spears had grown up in France, and in the 1960s he returned to the house he had lived in. There, he found a picnic basket filled with his grandmother’s old letters:

    The next letters I opened dropped me back two generations into a land of other people’s memories but with an occasional sharp glint as they recalled things I had heard of as a child. They were the letters of a poor sick young woman written to her absent husband whilst she was immobilised awaiting her first and only child, my mother.

    I never imagined my grandmother other than I had known her, white haired, stout, and dignified. The picture painted in these letters of a girl frantic with loneliness and longing, exasperated at the threat of a miscarriage which kept her lying on her back, begging her husband to come to her, all told in the reserved language of that day, filled me with a kind of fond protective amusement. It was so unexpected. Time, so long imprisoned in these boxes, was revealing itself in an entirely new guise, oscillating quite regardless of years from one generation to the next or back again–more, it was taking me, an elderly man in the 1960s, and leading me back to the year 1864, there to watch over, with infinite tenderness, a young woman I had never known, my grandmother as a young wife…

    Another time-travel experience, albeit of a less directly personal nature than the above three ventures back in time, can be found in this set of photographs: 1910–The Summer of our Content.

    See also the comments for the original post of the above.

     

    5 Responses to “Summer Rerun: Time Travel”

    1. Mike K Says:

      A friend of mine, an orthopedic surgeon and sailor friend, told me one time of visiting Lake Arrowhead, which is a lake in the mountains east of Los Angeles. I had a weekend home there at the time and his family had had a similar place when he was a boy. He had learned to sail there and had spent many happy weekends and vacations there.

      He was up there for a weekend many years after his family had passed on and the home had been sold many years before. He was pointing out the location to his wife when he realized that there was an open house sign and the home was for sale. They decided to stop and look at the old family place.

      It was pretty common for these vacation homes to be sold furnished and “as is.” As they walked through the home, recalling memories of his childhood, he opened a drawer in the bedroom that had been his. There in the drawer were his swim trunks from his childhood.

      The subsequent owners had never disturbed the clothing in the dresser drawers and there, almost 50 years later, were his swim trunks.

      We drove up to Michigan yesterday and looked at summer places my sister and I had spent happy times at in childhood. One house, she and her family have rented for a week most summers for the past 35 years. When my daughter was 3 we spent a week with them. Our daughter is now 36. We always rented but we had many memories of the same houses over many years,.

      Nothing like the eerie experience my friend had 30 years ago. He was older than I and has passed on himself. I still stay in touch with his son.

    2. David Foster Says:

      Mike…eerie indeed.

      Reminds me of the Connie Willis story about an unhappily married (and perhaps mentally-disturbed) woman who moves back to the town where she went to school…and encounters her former self. I summarized/excerpted it here:

      http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/16168.html

    3. dearieme Says:

      My father’s step-father was a Hollywood actor who started in films before talkies. I searched for him on youtube, and there he was, hamming away.

    4. Gringo Says:

      When my parents moved to NE, they rented an old farmhouse for 4 years. When I was 3, we left it to move to a house my parents purchased, which was home for over 3 decades.

      Some decades ago, the farmhouse my parents had rented had burned down. Nonetheless, on trips back home I was still able to locate where the farmhouse had been. Last year on a trip back to my hometown, I drove down the road that the old farmhouse had been on,and could not locate where it had been. Fade, fade, fade away.

      Regarding getting a different perspective on a grandparent, I am reminded of the conversations I had with my grandmother when she was an adult. I got a much richer perspective on my grandmother. For example, she told of her experience as a newlywed, where she moved to her mother-in-law’s farm. Her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, was a pretty good manager, as she had been able to keep the family farm together in the nearly two decades since my great-grandfather had died. My great-grandmother did so with extended family support. My grandmother found out that her marriage and move to the farm meant that she was cooking meals for 8-9 people, including my grandfather’s uncles who were helping out on the farm.

      My grandmother told me she didn’t like that arrangement. It was no accident that within 6 months my grandparents purchased their own farm, out of state. My grandmother was the type that if she wanted something to happen, she did her utmost to make it so. No wishful dreamer, she. I suspect she gave my grandfather an ultimatum.

    5. Jenk Says:

      In 2015 I moved back to Chambersburg PA after having been gone for over 20 years; we had lived there off and on until my father retired from the Army and I returned only intermittently between 1984 and 1995; except for 1988-1992 when I attended Shippensburg University I lived elsewhere.

      I was driving on Letterkenny Army Depot while looking for some places to go fishing when I found myself near the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter. There was a softball field on one side, a stand of trees and a road on the other and a steep hill behind me. That’s when I realized I was looking at a site that had been a military housing area for the depot–I had lived there in the early 1970s.

      Having spent five years earlier as an animal rescue volunteer I was kinda amused….

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