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Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Seemingly Oligatory Christmas Column

Nonfiction • “Christmas Eve, 2017,” by Bruce Bethke •



I had a column I used to recycle every Christmas Eve. It was a mopey, sentimental thing about my Dad and the 8mm movie camera he used to take to every family gathering when I was a kid. The technology of the times required that he use a battery of photoflood lights if he wanted to shoot color film indoors, so we have a lot of footage of my relatives raising their hands and cringing before those floodlights, like vampires cowering at the first rays of sunrise.

Sometime in the late 1960s my Dad got the idea to edit all those Christmas clips together into one reel, although for reasons he never explained he decided not to put them in chronological order. The result is a fascinating home movie that skips back and forth in time between the early 1950s and the late 1960s, and shows the members of my extended family going from being young children, to having children of their own, and back and forth again.

Some years back, when DVD was new, I got the idea to transfer that movie to DVD, dub in a soundtrack of period Christmas music, and then make VHS copies of the result and send them to all my living relatives. The tapes were a hit. But... VHS.

A few days ago I was talking by phone with my brother in Texas, and the subject of that tape came up again. Yes, he still had it—somewhere—but couldn’t remember how long ago he’d junked his last VHS deck. Yes, he thought it would be a great idea if I was to redo it, this time on DVD, and for a few minutes, I was excited about the idea. With the software tools I have now, I could do a much better job of transferring the images, cleaning up the frame sync problems, tightening the editing, and layering in a new soundtrack.

But then I realized: the number of people now living who would recognize any of the people in that film has gotten much smaller since I did the VHS version, and it’s getting smaller every year.

Time travel is one of the grand old ideas of science fiction. When we’re young, we love to imagine things like, “What if we could go back in time to December 6th, 1941, and take along the U.S.S. Nimitz?” Or, “What if we could travel into the distant future, and then come back to now with everything we learned there?”

A little later in life, it becomes more personal. We start to imagine, “What if I could go back in time just a few years, and fix just one terrible mistake I made when I was younger?”

When you get to be my age, you start to realize that actually having time travel would be a nightmare, and the worst nightmare of all would be to travel into the future and get stuck there, in that strange world where no one speaks your language. Our world is already full of time travelers who are traveling into the future at 1X speed and getting stuck there. We call them ‘old people,’ and at our best, we tolerate their continued presence.

This year, we are the grandparents our children are taking time from their busy schedules to come visit, and we’re grateful for their company. But every year, the roll call of our fellow time travelers gets shorter, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town becomes more poignant.

“Thornton Wilder?” the youngest asked. “Our Town? The class play my senior year was that old classic, The Rocky Horror Show.”

The. Rocky. Horror. Show.

Yes. Please. Just one more time.

Let’s do the time warp again.


1 comment:

GuyStewart said...

I'm so sorry...but I feel a story coming on...(as long as you let me stir in Alzheimer's as the sole brain adaptation for successful time travel...and a genius who finds out unexpectedly that he can time travel...) a bit dark for me, but...hmmmm...