Winter’s Tale

The long nights of the year are upon us and the diversity-celebrating, non-denominational holiday lights of Burlington wink on in the late afternoon as the sun sets not far from where it rises, off in the mountains to the south (first Green, then Adirondack).

The kitchen is the warmest room in the house, with the stove and oven, with steam, with light (sometimes with smoke) and everyone – even sullen teens – are drawn in.  We are fortunate enough to eat in the kitchen, the only place worth eating in the winter, if you ask me.

The winter food – soups and stews, roasted meat and root vegetables – is what I think of as comfort food.  I like the burger off the grill as much as the next middle-aged guy, but harvest food in a warm kitchen on a cold night near the Canadian border is what I call coming home.

Anyhow, this is not about food; it’s about time and how quickly it passes.  Albert Einstein (supposedly) said, “You sit on a hot stove for a minute and you think it’s an hour.  Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and you think it’s a minute.  That’s relativity.”  He may not have said it.  I saw on a calendar – “inspirational quote of the day” kind of thing – but it makes sense.  If he didn’t say it, he should have.

The time in question is the 20th century and it’s being studied by high school juniors in these parts.  I, having been a witness to a portion of this century, have been volunteered to help prepare one particular junior for her final.

This is the space where one might expect the crotchety old man to complain about the terrible education kids these days are getting in the public schools, but it ain’t so.  From the material I’ve seen and the reports from our classroom representative, my tax dollars are buying an appreciation of historical forces far beyond who shot who where and when.

Special emphasis for this test will be on the early 20th century which I did not witness, but during which my Uncle John was on one side of a war and my Uncles Hans and Karl were on the other, but died before John started shooting, so there’s no reason for any lingering family bitterness.  Grandpa was on a third side, and Uncle Marcus (after whom I’m vaguely named) died in the Spanish Flu during the same war (just so no disaster would completely pass us by) but I decided to not even bring these things into the conversation, because by now I have thoroughly confused my audience and I’m sure none of this is in the textbook anyhow.

You can tell the discussion wanders around a bit and after a while ice cream must be consumed to put us back on track and after some consultation with texts and hand held devices, several paragraphs of pencil lead have been distributed and a slightly less vague apprehension of history is attained (or at least that’s what the middle-aged guy kids himself with).

The time of greatest concern itself to the teen scholar is late next week when the exam will be held and the paper due, but I wonder if the time does not stretch away far further than that, to every long winter night for a thousand years when people huddled near the stoves and told the stories of the century past, what they’d witnessed and what they’d heard about from their uncles and aunts and those who’d gone before.

The technology’s changed.  Not much else.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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