I’ve been thinking a lot about how excited my grandmother was when the year changed from 1999 to 2000. It was so important to her to watch the ball drop in NYC at midnight as the century changed from the 1900s to the 2000s. I think she stayed up watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve that night, and had an alarm set so my grandfather would wake up and celebrate the change in years with her. I am sure he was excited as well, but he wouldn’t admit it. Poppop liked to grump about things like that more than he liked to admit he was excited.
July 12, 1942
I remember my grandmother saying that she and my grandfather never thought they’d see a new century. My Nana was born in 1918, my Poppop was born in 1912. They lived into their 90s, and being alive to see a new century begin was amazing to them. This was during the time the younger crowd was freaking out about the end of the world, and computers not working, and Y2K DOOM, and whatnot. My grandparents just wanted to see a year that didn’t begin with 19.
They saw so much change in their lives. So many discoveries in medicine, technology, media. Cars were invented, and evolved. Television was invented, and evolved. Cures for diseases were discovered and worked. Men travelled to the moon. Computers were created and shrank in size so that they could be brought into your own home. The internet was created. My Nana, in her 80s, used the internet to connect with relatives and friends in Australia, Canada, and Panama. My Nana, who could hardly see in her late-80s, could touch type like the best of them, and could stay in touch, and expand her world just by sitting in her living room. She was amazed and astonished, and took to this new part of life like a fish to water. (My grandfather thought it was all pish-posh and didn’t see what the fuss was about. He liked his newspapers! Though I am pretty sure he was amazed by it just as much as his wife was, though didn’t quite understand how it worked so he just grumped about it. Silly Poppop.)
My grandfather lived through two World Wars, granted he was way too young to even register what was happening during WWI. Both he, and my grandmother, were certainly old enough during the Second World War to know what was going on. My grandfather wasn’t able to serve in WWII as he’d broken his nose in a boxing match and had zero sense of smell, so he was not deemed fit to serve. He had at least one brother who served in the war though. I can’t remember if all of his brothers served or not (there were NINE siblings in total), but I recall hearing about his brother Joe. My grandfather always said that his brother had changed after the war and he didn’t like who he had become. He swore a lot. And I guess he drank a lot. My grandfather didn’t approve of this. I remember being told that Uncle Joe didn’t like to talk about the war. I didn’t understand at the time, I was young, but I get it now. I can’t imagine what sort of toll being in a war must take on a person. No wonder they change. No wonder they might not want to talk about it.
And I keeping thinking about how excited my grandmother was as the century turned over, and how much wonder she had for the world. I can’t stop thinking about her excitement and amazement over the changes she’d seen, and the changes still to come.
And I think: I am happy my grandparents are not alive to see the changes that are happening now. Hate is spreading like a disease. So much anger. So much rage. It’s one thing when history repeats itself by foolishly bringing back fashion trends that were better off left in the past — fashion doesn’t really hurt anyone. (Unless, you know, you get blinded from some god-awful fluorescent-coloured fashion mistake.) It’s another thing when history repeats itself by allowing fear and hatred to flare up and come to a boil, scalding and hurting so many people around it. I am happy my grandparents are no longer here to re-live the terrifying thoughts and actions that are unfolding in the world right now.They’ve been through it once. I think that’s enough.
I wasn’t at all interested in history in school. I didn’t really care. I could never understand how people could be so blind to what was happening around them that they’d let something so disgusting and demonic happen to a group of people based on religion, or skin colour. How could a fear of differences be so strong that you need to eliminate anyone different than you? How is that possible? And yet, I sit here safe in my own home, and see that pot starting to boil again, and boil fast. And I don’t understand how people don’t see the problems with this. I do not understand why so many people think that these thoughts and actions are OK, and normal. I will never, ever, understand why someone would think that skin colour dictates a person’s worth.
I am not perfect. I have my moments of prejudice. I am not proud of that, but it’s true. I think we all do. No one is 100% free of negative thoughts. But I believe that your actions are what matter most. It’s what you do, and how you treat others that will make you worthy of respect and honour.
But at the rate hate and fear is spreading like wildfire these days, I’m scared. I’m very worried. And I am thankful that my grandmother’s wonder and heartfelt excitement about how the world was changing, and seeing a whole new century open up as a blank page waiting for new stories, isn’t going to be snuffed out by the unbelievable sad state of the world today.
If only history would stick to repeating itself with poor fashion choices, because I don’t particularly want to live through an era that will be part of history books of the future under the “bad things that happened” chapter.