Su Lum: Slumming |

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

When my 99-year-old mother was fading into oblivion, the only meaningful conversations we could hold with her were those related to the long-gone past. Ask what article she had just read in The New York Times and she’d look as if you were speaking to her in Urdu, but ask her about events that took place almost 100 years ago and her memory was clear as crystal.

“I remember that bathing suit,” she said, when shown a postage-stamp-sized photograph taken at a beach when she was about eight and her sister, Polly, about five. I could barely see that it was two children on the edge of the surf, but she remembered when and where it was taken and even the modest bathing suit she was wearing. “I always hated that bathing suit. My mother made it.”

Memories from the distant past may seem clearer because when you are young time passes so slowly, whereas when you are older everything goes by in a blur, like a movie on fast forward.

The two decades between birth and age 20 are like an eternity compared to the flash of what seems like a couple of weeks between age 50 and age 70, so no wonder we have more clear memories of those long early years. Or maybe it’s even more basic than that, when we realize that memory itself is our reality.

Another distortion in these modern days is the speed of technology. One of my first jobs was as a secretary at a division of Thiokol, and one of my duties was to copy documents to duplicate files from other departments in close proximity (their desks three feet away from ours), redundantly replicating them for the files of our new department.

This was long before the invention of Xerox, and the process, called Verifax, involved exposing each page to light, dipping it into a chemical solution, waiting 30-60 seconds, pulling the negative and the copy apart, and hanging the wet copy out to dry.

Now, of course, you can put a ream of paper into a copier, tell it to reproduce a dozen or a hundred replicas in any size, shape or color, collate the pages and even staple them together. In my mother’s day, everything had to be typed or, not much earlier, written out by hand.

When I bought my first microwave, frozen foods had to be baked for a half hour in the oven, so it was something of a miracle to pop in a carton of ravioli that would be steaming hot in eight minutes. Then, as even faster products took only three or four minutes to heat up, eight seemed like a lifetime.

Meanwhile, fingers drummed as the new copiers took THREE MINUTES to warm up, and now we get even more impatient when the waiting time is 60 seconds.

In the world of instant communication, we text and e-mail messages that only a lifetime or two ago were sent by telegraph or couriers on horseback. Today I won’t even think of looking up anything in the encyclopedia or dictionary when Google is at my fingertips.

Still, everything is relative. It is a permanent truth that time lasts longer when you’re waiting for a delayed airline flight than it does for your impending execution.

And I think it will always be true that youth, as they race down the highway of life, will ultimately have more acute memories of their childhoods than they have about what happened yesterday ” or five minutes ago.