Back in the ‘30s and ‘40s — and until 1951, when I was a sophomore in high school — moviegoers could see, in addition to the feature film, “The March of Time,” a newsreel series combining actual news events with reenactments. The “voice” of The March of Time was Westbrook Van Voorhis, whose authoritative tones I was pleased to hear again while looking at and listening to a snippet of the show on YouTube.
Old folks like me can grouse about the downside of the digital age, but the way our past has been preserved and made accessible is thrilling — and often highly entertaining. Check out Tim Conway’s description of “Siamese elephants” on “The Carol Burnett Show.”
Anyhow, I got to thinking about The March of Time while thinking about, well, the march of time. I’ve been kind of hooked on that lately, having turned 80 in July and been really aware — for about 15 years — of the meaning of Virgil’s latin words tempus fugit. He actually wrote, fugit inreparabile tempus: “it escapes, irretrievable time,” which is even worse when you find that out.
Not long after retirement — I didn’t have many free minutes before — I began realizing that things in the history books, events that took place waaaay back in American history, weren’t so far from my own days here at all. For instance, when I was getting to be a senior, it dawned that the Civil War ended only 70 years before my birthdate, and that I often sat on the lap of a grandmother who was born that year. 1865. And Queen Victoria ruled the British empire until my Grandma Tucker was 11.
History catches up with you through your connections when you’re fortunate enough to enjoy a long lifetime. Will my grandsons someday marvel that their own connection to World War II is so close? It ended only 50 years before the oldest was born, and their grandmother remembers the day it began for the U.S., as well as the day peace was declared and her cousins began coming home from Europe and the Pacific.
I’m interested in getting an explanation of why I perceive time differently as a senior. Why did it change with passing years, when Earth’s orbit around the sun takes the same number of hours to accomplish as it did when I was 10? 20? 30? 40? When did it start changing?
I can remember when Christmases seemed almost a decade apart, and the time spent driving with my mother to a movie no more than 10 miles away seemed half a day. Then, how did my grandsons get to be 18 and 20 in the blink of an eye? I think it took their mother much longer to grow up to be 20 when I was only 45. How is it almost Thanksgiving again when it just was?
In “Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception,” author Claudia Hammond says learning something new is the way to stop time from rushing past you. She suggests that “an intake of fresh, unusual experiences — rather than a predictable routine — can trick our brain into once again registering time more slowly, the same way we did as children.”
Well, it’s too late — I’m not in shape now — for me to do some of the things I once did, like climb atop the Great Wall of China, go white-watering in Colorado, hike on the Appalachian Trail as 70-something Robert Redford did in his latest movie. But I can join the classes at the People Program not far down the street, jump on Amtrak to visit my sister in Alabama, see what’s new at NOMA, check out matinees at local theaters …
The possibilities aren’t endless at my age — I’m not the 83-year-old zip-liner I once met in Argentina. But they’ll do.