Some years ago I discovered Jack Finney. He’s an author who writes about bridging over time when the desire to do so makes it possible. He’s a great story teller who has no problem at all getting me to suspend my disbelief. I’m like a child again listening to my father tell bedtime stories. No book or pictures were necessary with Daddy’s stories. I was all ears and my imagination drew pictures. I knew Daddy’s stories were made up in his own heart and mind and memory and that made them all the more real for me.
Finney writes like my Daddy talked in that half hushed confidential way so no one else can hear. He draws me in comfortingly so that everything he says becomes totally believable. His longing for another time, a gentler time when news came in newspapers and was not so in your face. He wonders about old buildings, old houses, old streets where today you might find occasional remnants of the past. And it’s not just nostalgia. There’s the element of wonder, romance or mystery, even the possibility of stepping into the past that clutch’s at the reader. Where will the story end?
I remember when first the sound barrier was broken in aviation. It had been believed impossible; that going beyond the speed of sound would suddenly cause a plane to disintegrate. Silly, we say now. So, why can’t we break the time barrier? Or any other barrier that we labor under in belief?
I’ve always been fascinated by the probability that the so-called impossible is a mere illusion. I admire those scientists and engineers who make dreams come true. I’m told that airplanes these days practically fly themselves and in time pilots will become unnecessary altogether. Just this morning I saw on TV a car driven entirely by a computerized piloting system. We’d all be dumbfounded, I’m sure, by the things on the drawing boards of those who know how to make the “impossible” possible.
Can’t you imagine how it would be to slip into some other time frame? Once, when we owned a sixty acre ranch along the Applegate River in southern Oregon I dreamed of creating a place exactly like an 1800’s spread. It would have dirt roads along the river bank (about a mile amidst tall trees and blackberry bushes.) I’d have antique cars, horse drawn wagons, and pony carts. The house would be large and rambling with porches and swings. Fruit and vegetable gardens. Milk cows and sheep, chickens, ducks, pigs. One caveat: we’d have the animals lead a life of pleasure with no violent end, no ending up on the dinner plate. I loved that dream. We’d invite paying guests to enjoy stepping into the past with the uglier aspects of ranch life removed. But never once did I entertain the idea that we could actually go back in time there. Nor would I have wanted to. After eight years on the ranch I realized that the past might not be so idyllic after all.
Certainly today’s world has a long way to go in achieving the ideal. What if the next experience after this turns out to be a mere skip in time? What if, when I appear to die, I’ll go to sleep and wake up in another age? Will it be like changing channels on the TV or frequencies on the radio? Jack Finney's book has stirred my imagination but right now I'm willing to let "reality" stay right where it is.