Time travel? This will have to do

Gene Deason

Let’s say I find a magic lamp and a genie pops out to grant me three wishes. I know what the first would be — the ability to travel through time.

The other two wishes? I’ve got several possibilities, but I’ll have to wait to see if that moment ever arrives before deciding.

Even though time travel doesn’t appear to be in the cards, at least not in my lifetime, the development of the World Wide Web has provided a convenient way to look back. Internet surfers can view hundreds of thousands of historic photos, and when exact addresses are included, other websites allow you to travel thousands of miles to see photos of how those locations look today.

If you’re on Facebook, I can recommend two pages, “Traces of Texas” and “Pecan Valley Genealogical Society.” Their “friends” are amazed daily with historic photographs and fascinating tidbits of information. Other similar pages and websites are out there, but these alone will keep you busy all day.

However, I’ve been “time traveling” recently in another region. I rediscovered a photograph taken by my father in the 1950s showing two friends and me sitting on a sled after a snowstorm in North Carolina. Our house was near the bottom of a hill, and our street stopped at a “T” intersection where the hangar of the community’s general aviation airport was situated.

The hangar featured a large advertisement on the outside wall, promoting a brand of spark plugs. The single word “Champion” provided a subliminal boost to our youthful attitudes. Cars driving up the hill stopped just in front of it before having to turn left or right. I saw that image every day while growing up, until we moved to another part of town when I was in eighth grade.

That airport was a backdrop to everything we boys did while playing outside. Sometimes in the summer, the pilots and mechanics let us hang out with them while they worked on engines, but they wanted $5 and our parents’ permission before they would take anyone flying. I don’t know which would have been more difficult for us to acquire: that much cash or our parents’ approval.

A few years ago, I wrote in this column about a man living on the East Coast who contacted me at the Bulletin. He was affiliated with a volunteer organization that researches military personnel biographies to fill in such gaps. The group lacked information on a World War II veteran who listed his hometown as Brown County when he enlisted. As it turned out, family members still lived here, so those details were easy to find.

After that was settled, the man asked me about my name, because it was the same as the boss he had as a young man in North Carolina. His boss was indeed my father.

Dad never talked to me much about his job, perhaps because he worked on classified military projects as an employee of a government contractor. The man was very complimentary of my father as a manager, and told me of a time when he risked insubordination when a corporate executive touring the plant wanted to see the work their department was doing. Dad firmly denied him access, and the situation got tense when he tried to go over Dad’s head. My father’s decision was upheld.

 I learned more from this man about what my late father did in his work than Dad ever told me. Then, he provided websites where information on, and photos of the plant — as well as that airport, where planes built in that plant were tested during World War II — could be found. Today, retail stores are lined up where aircraft once took off and landed, but these old photos transported me back to my childhood and another era.

Several aerial photos taken between 1951 and 1972, before the airport was closed, even showed the house where we lived. Others pictured the airport when it was built in the 1930s.

My mind was racing with happy memories as I switched off the computer. We seldom fully appreciate what we see every day as we go through life, but in time, everything can gradually change, if not completely disappear. Memories aren’t always reliable, but I’m thankful that some people make the effort to preserve these snapshots in time, and share them.

Gene Deason is a former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears in the Bulletin on Fridays. Contact him at fridaycolumn@aol.com.