The other day I purchased a few items (we can only afford a few) at the supermarket. The lovely checkout counter clerk rang up the charges and said to me: “$16.44.”
I looked at her and said, Sixteen-forty-four was a very good year.” Ignoring my stupid remark, she said clearly, “Your charges are $16.44.”
Being on another wave length, I replied: “That was a very good year. The year the Qing dynasty overthrew the Mings.” From her blank stare I knew what I said meant nothing to her. The day was already too long for her. So I started to explain what I was talking about. (Like politicians who flub a remark, then try to explain what they meant to say.)
As she handed me my change, she said, “How do you do that numbers thing?”
Dates out of history have always fascinated me. Often when I get change I think that way, but keep it to myself. Like $18.99 reminds me of the year my dad was born. Every now and then I see a good historical number on a car license plate.
This got me to thinking about the kids entering college this fall. Their classmates know the Vietnam War as hearsay, and have no meaningful recollection of the Reagan era and the Iran-Contra affair; or that the old man who builds Habitat for Humanity houses was once our president.
The historic Sony Walkman was already out of date when they were born. Vinyl albums are strange to them and chances are they have never actually seen an eight-track player. The expression, “You sound like a broken record,” means nothing to them.
Computers have been a part of their education like a slate and caulk were for me. They have always had a cell phone in their ear. I was asked recently if I was a war vet. I said, yes, the Civil War. The person asking did not have a clue when the North-South conflict took place. She believed me and come to think of it, maybe I looked that old to her.
At the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., I watched a mother and her small son approach the Flying Tigers exhibit of a vintage Curtiss P-40 fighter. “That is from World War I,” she told the boy. Good, she only missed it by 30 years.
It is not easy to get a grandson born in the late 1980s to listen to an Ancient Mariner and tales of long ago. But if we forget our past and lose touch with what went before, we will keep on reinventing the wheel, or starting unending wars to our regret.
My prayer for these who will lead our country that they find a good social studies or history teacher as soon as possible. When I hear someone say how dull history class was, I lament for them and for the teacher who should have made it more interesting.
I was fortunate to have good history teacher all the way back to elementary school. At college, T.R. Havins literally made history come to life and jump off the page. It was so vivid you knew he must have been at the Alamo or crossed the Rubicon with Caesar.
I learn something every week from history. Some of it has a spin and history is always written by the victors, but there is much yet to learn, even for us old-timers. For example: We’ve all been walking wrong since our footwear grew heels. This is what Adam Sternbergh learned from his research of shoes being our foot’s worst enemy. I’ll leave the reader to research that more. But I believe it is true. Walking barefoot is the best way.
Regardless of our age, learning from the past, makes the present more fun and the future more hopeful.
Britt Towery is a former missionary, freelance writer and published author. His columns are published in the Bulletin on Fridays. This column was originally published in May 2008. He welcomes reader feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other columns are available on his Web site, www.britt-towery.