Here is how it all started.
When my husband and I visited our mothers, mine 93 his 92 at the time, we took them to a park on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Being in our old hometown, we weren’t surprised when a familiar face and her family wandered into the park.
She joined us while her grandkids played. She mentioned that she’d been to the funeral of an elderly woman who we all had known. A wonderful woman who’d lived well into her 90’s.
Well, being the history lover that I am whenever I hear of an old person passing on I always think of when they were born and what was happening in the world at that time. That person was my connection to a time before I was born. A connection to the past.
For example, my mother was born in 1922 when the car was a new thing and women for the first time in history were wearing knee length dresses, so that’s my connection to the Roaring 20’s era, through my mom.
I always see things through a historical lens. I see old-timers as my personal connection to another time in history. It’s my twist on the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation, (the idea that any 2 people on the planet are linked by six or less acquaintances), only my concept is a generational separation.
I once had a neighbor who lived just short of her 105th birthday. Her memory was sharp and it was always so interesting to hear her talk about the old days in vivid detail. She remembered things I’ve only read about or saw in old black and white photographs. She was my direct connection to the days when European immigrants were flooding into the US, traveling by boat from the old country with a few trunks of belongings, in hopes of a new life.
Now days people live longer and there are more older people than ever before. Living over 100 isn’t unheard of. Most of us know someone who is at least 90. Even years back when the life expectancy wasn’t what it was today, there still was always some old-timer around. Every generation has had a direct connection to somebody really old, which takes us to my formula.
Here is how my six degrees of generational separation works: Take the year you were born then go back 85 years. (I’m using 85 because every generation has had an 85-year-old living.) Then take the year in history that 85-year-old was born and that’s the year you have a direct connection to. Even though you were a just youngster when they were living you were both alive at the same time in history. In my case being born in 1956, an 85-year-old alive then, had been born in 1871. Now today the year 1871 seems like way, way long ago, because it is, but it’s my connection to the year 1871! Even though that 85-year-old alive the day I was born back in 1956 isn’t around today, there was a time when we were both living thus we were connecting time and history briefly. Ok, so that’s one generation connection. Now, take the year 1871 when ‘my’ old-timer was born, and find another person living then who was born 85 years before my 85-year-old, which brings it to the year 1786. You know what’s next. We go farther back in time going from the person born in 1786, back 85 more years to the birth year of some other 85-year-old, which goes back to the year 1701. Ok, this is a real kick for me. I love how far back this is going! Don’t stop me now because we’re going back another 85 years to 1616. Then another 85 years goes to 1531. Let’s repeat this the 6th and final time that for me, born in 1956, I end up 6 generations back in history to the year (drumroll..) 1446! That’s the end of the medieval period, just a few years until Leonardo da Vinci’s birth, the printing press was just becoming popular, and King Henry VI was on the English throne. Call me odd, but it’s fun to think that a generation I touched had touched another and they to another and so on and so on, just 6 times taking me way, way back in history!
For the fun of it, take your birth year and go back 85 years, 6 times, and see where it ends up in history.
I love those family photos where you see the 4 or 5 generations posing together. There’s just something about the oldest person in the family in the same photo as the youngest. It’s all right there. Generations connecting time. A line that can’t be cut. A wave on a never ending stream.
This fascination all started for me when I was growing up in Minnesota and my town would honor war vets on Veterans Day. I remember seeing the last few remaining WW1 vets from our town standing on the court house steps as the crowd applauded them. Then one Veterans Day only one WW1 vet stood there in front of the crowd. Then it hit me that he was our last one. And to think when he was a teen, as I was that day, he knew people from the Civil War times.
Sure history books, photos and diaries can give us a glimpse to days long gone, but nothing can compare to the tangible handshake or looking into the eyes of an old person who has a direct connection to a time before I was born. Our lifetimes merge and blend with each others.
The generations come and go and our lives are like a blade of grass in the sun yet we’re all connected on so many levels! Yes, to the past generations as well as to those still living, by miles. And there are also other types of connections, say to a famous person. I’m only 3 people away from Marilyn Monroe….that story another time!