I Really, REALLY Want to Be a Time Traveller

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I really, REALLY want to be a time traveller. I want to escape and never come back. I’m turning into a grumpy, cynical, intolerant old man and I hate it. I think it’s natural (for most of us) to look back upon our childhoods with some nostalgia as we age. I am seventy years old and I know that I do it, often.

In retrospect I grew up at an idyllic time in our Nation’s history, the baby-boom years of post World War II. You know, the generation that is responsible for all of our current problems. Unfortunately, there is more than a modicum of truth in that provocative statement. Mea culpa I’m afraid.

The 1950s were not perfect. Many of the social problems we have today were simply kept out of sight when I was a kid—ignorance is bliss. However, ignorance is no excuse and in the 1960s my generation tried to bring about social (radical) change: civil rights, equality for women, ecological responsibility and an end to war. The issues that divided us then still divide us now. I’m afraid we failed and I see no evidence that later generations have picked up the gauntlet.

I cannot travel through time except in my head. The closest I can come to time travel is to trek the world looking for new and authentic experiences. This has been my passion for the past six years and will probably continue to be my passion until I can no longer shoulder my rucksack (it gets a little heavier everyday). But the faster I travel, and the more I look to the past for simplicity, the faster the Langoliers gobble up time behind me (Langoliers: A TV mini-series based on the Stephen King novella of the same name). Stephen King is my contemporary.

We share a first name (spelled the same), we share the birth year 1947 (though I am four months his senior) and we share good memories of the 1950s. Unlike King, I want to travel back even further in time—the 19th-Century to be precise. And I want to be English (when in fact I have a German-American heritage). Oh yeah, and I want to be upper crust as the Brits would say—you know, Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey that sort of thing. Hey, it’s my fantasy so don’t judge me. I’m not a complete fool, I know the reality was much different from the fantasy (I am also an amateur student of history and a brutal pragmatist).

The same can be said of the 1950s despite King’s nostalgic reflections and my own fuzzy memories. We had childhood killers in the 1950s in the form of disease: polio, measles, chickenpox, mumps and of course influenza. Thousands died every year. My first girlfriend, Diana (age 6), succumbed to the polio epidemic of 1952—I remember her death vividly (and my childhood plea to a god who didn’t listen) and I was devastated. I survived chickenpox, measles and the Asian flu pandemic in 1957 that may have killed over two million people worldwide.

Stephen (L) and Joel (R) in 1958 (Ages 11 & 8 Respectively)

And thousands of servicemen were suffering the effects of undiagnosed PTSD from World War II. One of our neighbours, a former Army medic in the South Pacific, was a raging alcoholic and an abusive husband and father. Another neighbour, an Army veteran, shot his wife during a domestic quarrel (although she survived). My dad’s best friend since high school (also a neighbour) required psychiatric counselling post World War II because of the emotional trauma he suffered while flying combat missions over Germany as a B-17 navigator-bombardier with the Eighth Air Force stationed in England.

As an adult I can view the times more realistically now (unfortunately). I’m sure the same would be true for the 19th-Century should I successfully travel back. Most folks want to escape the past but I would still love to travel back if I could. Once in a while in my travels I think I’ve succeeded only to be undone with the seeming incredulity of life. A quick anecdote—Joel and I spent about three months trekking through Guatemala and one of our favourite spots was Antigua (very quaint, very beautiful and very peaceful). It felt like time travel to a simpler time.

As we were strolling through the main plaza we came across a traditional woman in traditional attire. Wonderful. No sooner had we spied this woman, and sighed with mutual appreciation, than she whipped out a cellphone from God only knows where and started barking at her husband. It totally shattered the moment. I was pissed. In self-righteous indignation I said to myself: how dare she. It wasn’t that she was doing anything wrong per se (although I did have pity for the husband on the receiving end of her rant), she had every right to own and use a cellphone—I was pissed because she destroyed my illusion, delusion, fantasy or dream. How dare she.



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