My take on history
I uploaded the first image last evening, like it quite well, and have been thinking about it for most of the day. I like it because I appreciate heirlooms, you know … old stuff … and here is why. Time is a dimension unlike the others for it proceeds in only one direction. Once you have blinked you may surely blink again but you can never, ever, blink that first blink again. Maybe I have been thinking too much about time and about the fact that one can neither stop or reverse it. Given these facts we humans find it necessary to remember and have become students of history. We go to great extremes to remember, reminisce, and relive the past. To this day I can recall the wonderful gentleman who taught me American History in high school. Mr. Schwartz was quite the character, complete with handlebar moustache and a penchant for the saxophone. He was memorable to be sure but his subject stirred me not. I have no doubt that all histories, in their broad generalities, are true … it is the details that I worry about. What bothers me about the reconstruction and telling of personal histories especially is that they are all subject to false recollection and wishful thinking. One wonders how deeply the phenomenon of Post Office pervades these narratives. Perhaps the empiricist in me requires proof? Having announced that I am not a fan of written or spoken history let me say that I do like old photos however, they are less prone to falsehood. Take, for example, the image of my maternal great grandfather shown watching over his goods store. Although I know his name was Kalman and that the image was taken in Dorchester, Massachusetts (on April, 1925 … so indicates the calendar) I know little else, and that’s alright. For me, the simple act of seeing him forms the important connection. The grandfather clock, discovered on a tour of a local farmstead, is a different matter for things, tangible things, can be viewed, touched, and smelled. I marvel that such items were a part of history, they were there in the presence of those who came before us. These are the constructions of our ancestors, they lived with these things and used them. Their hands touched them, and I come to know these people by having that same physical connection. So much better, meaningful, and real, than listening to a recitation of facts that either are or are not true, we cannot tell which. The piece is real and therein lies its value for me at least … I am less concerned with the minutia of its past. Perhaps this way of thinking has come to the fore because of a piece I heard on the radio the other morning. It was about the consequences of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (extended by the Geary Act of 1892, made permanent in 1902, and then repealed in 1943). In particular, and because of the act, individuals wanting to immigrate to the U.S. from China routinely forged documents (including fictitious names, claiming a citizen-relative living in the U.S.) thereby creating Paper Sons and Daughters. All of this with the result that many people today cannot accurately reconstruct the history of their lives or those of their relatives, near and distant. Sad indeed. I’ve mentioned the image below already, it shows my great grandfather Kalman. The family says that he had a glass (right) eye. They say he removed it rather than serve in the Czar’s Imperial Army. Apocryphal? Perhaps. But I have no way of knowing one way or the other … but I have two good eyes which tell me that he did indeed have one faux peeper. Imagination and family stories will fill in the details. What I hold dear is the image and that alone. POSTSCRIPT: For those who will enjoy playing … Where’s Waldo (in the first photo)?