Sidebar by Martha Quillen
Heavy Meddle – April 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine
Once upon a time, when I was twelve or so, I told my grandmother (born circa 1890) that I couldn’t believe what she had lived through. My great-grandmother (who was about forty when my grandmother was born) married soon after the civil war, and my grandma used to talk about that because there was a civil war centennial from 1960-65 — and also because my grandma wanted me to know that her family had been fierce Yankees. (Despite the fact that she was Canadian; apparently some of her relatives had even enlisted in the Michigan militia).
My grandmother, herself, had once been a Prohibitionist and a suffragette. And her mother (my great-grandmother) once shocked her entire family when she was still a teen-ager and she left Nova Scotia, caught a train to Chicago, then made her way down the Mississippi to Missouri where she joined a wagon train and traveled to California on her own — for no particular reason, except that she had read somewhere that with the war between the states over and a transcontinental train system under construction, there would soon be no more wagon trains.
And so I used to marvel about all of the things my grandmother had lived through. Her parents had been around for the civil war, and in her lifetime she’d greeted automobiles and indoor plumbing, airplanes and moon landings. When I was a kid, I thought she must live in a state of perpetual culture shock.
But my grandmother told me that it hadn’t been like that. When she was a child, she often contended, things were very slow in rural Ontario. She would hear about something, and read about it, and then wait and wait and wait before anyone she knew actually got electricity, or a tractor, or central heat. This idea that I had about her life — that over and over again it had suddenly and irrevocably been changed by some new invention — was nonsense according to my grandmother. She had waited forever before anyone she knew got an automobile, and she had followed the progress of the airplane from the days of the Wright brothers, but had never boarded one until the late 1950s.
This crazy concept that I had about progress — that something got invented and your life changed instantly and forever — that was true for my generation and even my parent’s generation but not for hers. After all, there had been indoor plumbing since the glory days of the Roman empire, but it wasn’t as if she’d seen much of it when she was a girl.
According to my grandma, my generation was the one that would really experience change; look at how television had been invented and grabbed hold and captured the whole country in less than a decade. “I can’t even imagine where you’ll be in thirty years,” my grandmother once told me. “I can’t even imagine what people will be doing for a living by then. Look at your Dad, he sells computers and flies around all the time. But me?
“Sure I’ve seen things, but I don’t necessarily try every new thing. You won’t see me driving a car or flying around ever again — once was enough. It’s your generation that accepts all this change, and that keeps on changing with it. Mine? For the most part, we’ve kept right on doing the same old thing. But now everything’s changing so fast that I can’t figure out where any of us are going.”
I remember that conversation pretty well (although in truth not word for word) — partly because it was one of my grandmother’s preoccupations for awhile (I don’t think she ever quite approved of my Dad being a jetsetter). But mostly I remember that conversation, because I think my grandmother may have been right.
I think we may be changing more rapidly and more completely than we can even imagine.
And right about now, I think it’s amply evident that our lives are evolving more rapidly than our coping mechanisms. –M.Q.