Hold Out Your Hand

It’s been 112 years since 1911. In geological or astronomical terms that’s nothing, but in human terms? Man, 112 years is a long time. Things that have been around for ever were just getting started in 1911:

  • Chevrolet started making cars
  • J.M. Smucker started making Crisco®

It’s been 112 years since 1911, which is longer than all but a handful of lifetimes. It’s long enough to take us from newspaper accounts of the coronation of George V to the streamed-online coronation of Charles III, George V’s great-grandson. And yet, 1911 is potentially just one handshake away. How so? That takes some explaining.

Each September, on the same weekend that new officer cadets mark the end of their four-week orientation and their full entry into the Royal Military College in Kingston, former RMC students hold class reunions. The usual drill is to hold one every five years after graduation. Last weekend, the Big Guy’s cohort celebrated the 55th anniversary of their 1968 graduation from RMC.

These days, RMC deliberately puts the oldest of these former students in contact with the youngest of the current students. Members of the Old Brigade come out onto the parade square to give badges to the first-year recruits (who are likely still hurting from the obstacle course they completed the day before, and from the parties they attended the night before) and to shake their hands.

By contrast, back in the day, there wasn’t any formal contact between geezers and yutes. In 1966, when the Big Guy was a newly arrived third-year student at RMC (having spent his first two years of military college at Royal Roads in Victoria) the old ex-cadets didn’t usually even cross paths with the young ones. But even though the Big Guy didn’t meet an old guy celebrating the 55th anniversary of his 1911 graduation, it’s almost certain one or more was there in 1966.

And just like that, two humans reach across 112 years: an old man at RMC in 2023 reaches back to his youth and finds another old man who can reach back to his youth in 1911. If that 1911 young man were to look around for someone who could reach back 55 years in his turn, he’d be talking to someone born well before Canada was even a country. Before the Civil War in the USofA.

I’m used to thinking in terms of generational hand-offs, across spans of about 25 years. In that context, history is ridiculously long, remote, ancient, and unreal, with endless links in the chain. But when I think about each person’s lifetime spanning three or four generations, my degrees of separation from any event drop drastically.

It’s been 112 years since 1911. In geological or astronomical terms that’s nothing, but in human terms? Past or future, 112 years are just a handshake away.

There must be something in the air. Here’s Howard Anglin’s truly lovely piece this week on this same topic. I don’t think he was in Kingston . . .

This entry was posted in Thinking Broadly, Through History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Hold Out Your Hand

  1. Ken from Kenora says:

    An excellent, reflective post Isabel. Thank you. A friend and I are off to the yearly Police and Peace Officer Memorial in a short while.

  2. I was raised with a sense of the importance of intergenerational respect and communication and that teaching began within the family. A baby picture of my father featured his parents and his grandmother, the same grandmother who sat in a photograph taken of her son, his son, and the newly born me. Our first child was in a photo that included four generations on my side of the family: my father and grandfather and young Chris. I heard from those older people about the previous couple of generations despite the momentous moves from England to Canada or from France and Switzerland to Canada. I wonder how many families today are able to celebrate their continuity? Separation, divorce, remarriage(s) seem to be the order of the day, along with major moves to distant places. Nevertheless, continuity (if that is possible) has many positive effects, not the least of which are economic and financial.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – That’s an interesting point – I wonder whether ours is the first generation (& to your point, maybe the last?) to have these multi-generational photos? My mother had access to a camera for casual shots in high school, I think – certainly in university – but her grandparents lived in Iowa. They did well to see them once a year. I don’t think there are any multi-generational shots of them. My father’s paternal grandparents were in Scotland; his in-laws were in this country (again, though, no 4-generation photos). Maybe the biggest explanatory factor for the family-to-family variation in this regard is just that families have different relationships.

  3. barbara carlson says:

    At my age, 112 years is nothing. Fifty years is yesterday. And stores are rushing at us with Xmas already (saw a commercial today!) three months away, before it’s even Halloween, although with all the online stuff about it, I feel it’s already happened.

    Slow down, media… let the future come to us, don’t rush at it so hard. I want to sit in that contented spot of “now” even though by the time I think it it’s past. Deep breath… now is here again. Sigh. Sufficient unto the day and all that.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Maybe there should A Law, restricting seasonal displays to a certain square footage at the back of any store. Do whatever you want when you want, just don’t foist it on me. If I feel the need, I’ll seek it out.

Comments are closed.