There's a passage in Ray Bradbury's 1957 fantasy novel, "Dandelion Wine", that has always haunted me.
The grandfather character of Bradbury's protagonist, 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding, is referred to reverently by the kids on the block as a "living time machine". When the old man spun his colorful memory stories while rocking on the family's front porch, the boy traveled back in time with the old man, too.
I personally know two living time machines that have been a part of my life since birth. (I am sure you know one or two time machines just like them.)
My 95-year-old mother and 97-year-old father are an amazing time-travelling couple.
Approaching the century mark, they live, independently, in the 1956 suburban Pennsylvania house where I grew up. In a sense, their household is a living time machine, too, even though I now know the days there are dwindling down to a precious few.
While my father sleeps more and has suffered a physical setback in the past year, he's still sharp as a tack; he reads several books a month and passes them on to me. Interestingly, he was pictured on the front page of the local newspaper-mowing the grass with his old-fashioned reel-lawnmower during an August heatwave a few years ago. Well, that's my old man-tough and old fashioned; "conservative" in all the meaningful, valued ways of the definition.
My father, born during the month and year the Great War exploded in Europe, has strong memories going back to the early 1920s-from having met U.S. Army veterans of both the U.S. Civil War and World War I to having seen Babe Ruth play baseball and shaking the hand of a man who shook the hand of President Abraham Lincoln.
When I talk with my father and mother, the world of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s comes alive.
My mother is a one-woman workforce, still trimming the backyard hedges, and all the while sewing beautifully, handcrafted clothes. She alos still recounts stories of her lean youth during the Great Depression, feeding railroad "hobos" at the family's back door, and helping collect neighborhood scrap metal for the war effort.
The point of this editorial is to point out that one of America's greatest sources of inspiration is rapidly disappearing-the Greatest Generation, a term coined by broadcaster Tom Brokaw.
This, our oldest surviving generation, tempered by economic depression, steeled by war, shocked by the atom bomb, deserves better.
As many baby boomers like me struggle with mortgage payments, college-bound kids, and the early warning signs of our mortality-why aren't we getting to know this generation better in order to seek its counsel? Those of us of the Baby Boom Generation, born between 1946 and 1964, are the first generation to be less appreciative of those who came before us. Shame on us.
Last week, I had the privilege to tour a wonderful senior citizen art exhibit currently on display in the lobby of the Lodge at Otter Creek adult living center in Middlebury (see the story in this week's Eagle).
This art exhibit is proof positive that you're only as old as you think.
All the art on display at the Lodge is sensitive, playful, accomplished, inspired-and the creators are all in their 80s and 90s. There's so much more we can learn (as well as about the art and science of living) from this Greatest Generation-so much wisdom yet to be harvested.
Maybe you know an elderly neighbor, a widow at church, a neglected father, a World War IIor Korean War veteran down the street? There's still time for you to discover-and experience for yourself-their world, as they lived it. Put aside your issues because this is not about you. For when that generation is gone, their memories will fade away like the "old soldier" of Gen. MacArthur's 1951 farewell address to Congress.
And just like my parents' own stories of the Depression and World War II, someday your Baby Boom-era memories, college tales, and '60s vagabonding experiences, will inspire, even motivate someone younger.
So, don't wait for your child or niece or nephew to ask you about your past-tell them about yourself, warts and all. Sit them down and gently have them listen. They may grumble, they may groan, but your life stories, like seeds cast upon fertile soil, will one day sprout and bloom as richly scented flowers to be passed on.
Now run-look in the mirror. Meet the newest living time machine.