Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time is a Relative Thing

AUSTIN, TX – Tomorrow, my three-week odyssey will end when my wife and I fly back to the Southwest corner.

Over a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, it occurred to me Einstein had it right: Time is a relative thing (or something like that).

More than a few years ago, three weeks were just a blink of “time’s winking eye” as Robert Penn Warren so eloquently put it in his epic poem “The Ballad of Billie Potts.”

Throughout my Navy career, a long time gone meant I was away from home for seven months or more. Three weeks was my ship’s maintenance availability in Naples, Italy when in the Mediterranean or Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines when in the Western Pacific, a blink of an eye compared to the entire deployment.

In 1990s consulting work, 18 months away from home base was easy for me. I still had the wanderlust which took me away from my hometown in 1967.

But these past three weeks seemed to be lengthy.

Time is a relative thing.

Incredible Feats

As my flight soars for three hours between Austin and the Southwest corner tomorrow, I will, as usual, marvel at our ancestors who made this the east-west trek in wagons. Those early pioneers carried their own meals on wheels. There were no McDonalds or Cracker Barrels. The stops were dictated by how far they could travel in a day, nearly always less than 30 miles. They had to time the travel to miss the brutal heat of the summer on the southern trails or the killer cold and snow of the northern passages over the Rockies.

Oh yes, flights were for the birds (only) and had Global Positioning System (GPS) existed, wagon-wheel ruts would have been the directed route, not I-8, 10, 20, 40, etc.

What will take me five hours total travel time from Lebanon to the Southwest corner took those folks of yesteryear more than a year. My annoyances of high-priced airport fare, security inconveniences, loud and inconsiderate nearby passengers, decreased flight service, and slow baggage claim doesn’t quite seem so bad considering their problems with broken wagon wheels, insubordinate livestock, dust, river fords, and marauding Apaches.

Time is relative.

Instant Development

During my Austin stay, I marveled at development time. Grandson Sam, crossing to the short-side toward three, went from diapers to “pull-ups” when he started to use the toilet proudly on his own (I know as I was the beckoned spectator a half-dozen times one morning as he displayed this newly acquired step toward maturity).

He also went from vigorously resisting teeth brushing to a strong self-starting supporter of dental hygiene in the space of three days. Six months ago, he was learning his first words. Now, he has running, voluminous commentary on almost everything, although occasionally, I am not sure what he is saying. This is likely due more to my hearing than his speaking.

Time is relative.

My two daughters grow closer together. They are 17 years apart in age, but their relationship is as strong as if they were only a year apart. They adeptly and speedily converse on “Facebook,” “Twitter,” and “texting,” while I wrestle with my email and web presence. Their time is in the realm of “Star Trek.” My time is in the realm of those pioneers and their Conestoga wagons.

Time is relative.

In another three weeks, we will turn around and repeat the Tennessee part of the journey. Christmas in Tennessee is the Southwest corner Jewell’s tradition. This will be our nineteenth straight year for the round trip.

I have about two months of work to chase during the three week turnaround. Of course, I must also catch up on my golf in the Southwest corner with my old Navy buddies, who have happily adopted the group moniker of “curmudgeons.”

Time is relative.

Old Friends Back Home

Christmas in Tennessee will surely take me back to the days of my youth but perhaps not as dramatically as during the Veteran’s Day week.

But I will spend time with my close friends, Henry Harding and Mike Dixon, something not afforded in the November junket. Hopefully, I will get to spend more time with other close Lebanon friends, and even meet anew old friends as I did with John Thompson on my recent visit.

We will recall our past adventures with varying degrees of accuracy and wonder where others have gone over these two score years.

Einstein was right: time is a relative thing.

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