Grandparents make the differenceA tragedy of modern American life is our loss of connection to stories and achievements of the past. It's often said children don't have heroes any more, at least not beyond the latest video heartthrob or pro athlete. I think this is because Some say that children don't have heroes any more.they lack access to grandparents.

Grandparents are the living threads linking us to learning, adventures and awe of remote times. Without the context they bring to life, children grow into a world that simply exists as it is. It's like eating nothing but restaurant meals and never seeing or understanding what goes on in the kitchen, far less participating yourself.

My grandfather used to smile with gentle disgust at all the people who have no idea where their food comes from, for example suggesting that most folks assume hamburger simply appears as if by magic in plastic-wrapped packages in the back rooms of grocery stores. He considered it important that kids understand roast beef starts as a cute calf. He made sure his grandsons knew how to thread a pipe, sharpen a chainsaw, dig a ditch.

He also sat and told us of how Franklin Roosevelt saved American democracy from anarchy in the '30s, how it was to see automobiles and airplanes for the first time, how he felt when a family horse crushed his sister to death.

It's harder to pretend you're the center of the universe when a grandparent shows your very life and freedom are built from decades of struggle and luck.

We won't know for sure until more time has passed, but the Internet seems likely to be the stellar invention of our age, and it's peculiar so few of us can name the man primarily responsible for starting it. Not Al Gore, by the way, but Tim Berners-Lee, who was knighted by the queen last week. If you were a child looking for a hero, Berners-Lee would be a good choice - a decent, modest man who nearly went out of his way to avoid profiting from his creation.

Sadly, such selflessness is more likely to earn derision than praise. We place lotto winners ahead of saints these days.

I was happy, though, to see some enthusiasm for the Wright Brothers last month as we marked the 100th anniversary of powered flight. Though they ended up far more embroiled in lawsuits than one might wish of heroes, the Wrights are genuinely admirable for achieving a great feat without aid from Pentagon contracts or shady stock deals.

Reading science journals from a century ago, it's fascinating to trace the arc of interest in "aeroplanes," the Wrights, and a host of competing inventors.

At least among professional scientists, the Wrights didn't have to wait long for acclaim. Only two weeks following their flight, a speaker at the Dec. 30, 1903 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said: "Too much praise cannot be awarded to these gentlemen. Being accomplished mechanics, they designed and built the apparatus, applying thereto a new and effective mode of control of their own. They learned its use at considerable personal risk of accident. They planned and built the motor, having found none in the market deemed suitable. They evolved a novel and superior form of propeller; and all this was done with their own hands, without having financial help from anyone."

There isn't a single index listing for airplanes, or areoplanes, in the bound volume of January-June 1904 Scientific American, but by 1911 things had moved along to the point a writer was exploring the potential uses of airplanes in war, concluding they would be impractical for much besides reconnaissance.

Thanks to my grandfather, I knew airplanes were the product of good American imagination, of young men engaged in life. It's been one of privileges of my daughter's young life that she's had her grandmother to tell her of horseback rides to school in the snow, of making jam and chasing chickens. Grandma has decided recently to move back to Wyoming, so we'll be using a lot free nighttime minutes to keep these treasured memories alive in a fresh little mind.

- M.S.W.

Matt Winters is editor of the Chinook Observer


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