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Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 1999 /21 Teves, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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The little girl in the one-room school house -- THE FADED, SEPIA-TONE PHOTOGRAPH shows a one-room log school house with a dozen children sitting in two neat rows. A chalk board behind the children reads Nov. 30, 1900, Parkman, Wyo.

The teacher stands primly in a high-collared, floor-length dress next to a pot-belly stove.

The littlest girl -- eyes wide, face blurred from having moved slightly while the camera shutter was still open -- is my maternal grandmother, Eva Clements, then 5 years old. Her two older sisters, Nan and Velma, sit straight-as-rods in the row behind her.

Though Eva did not live to see the end of this century -- she died in 1990 at age 95 -- what changes she witnessed were beyond imagining in 1900. Eva was the child of pioneers: Her mother came West by wagon train from Kahoka, Mo., in 1887; her father, born in Ohio, was a cowboy who drove longhorn cattle up from Texas and worked on the Crow Reservation and ranches along the Wyoming-Montana border until he was thrown from his horse and dragged to his death in 1903.

Yet during Eva's lifetime, the horse would give way to the automobile and then the plane (or aero-plane, as she would say) as her primary means of transportation when she visited her own children, scattered from Philadelphia to the Phillippines.

Eva lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, man's walk on the moon, the splitting of the atom, the discovery of new galaxies at the edge of the universe, and the development of radio, television and the computer, among other wonders. No previous span of a single century has seen so much change. I can't help wondering, as I peer into my grandmother's eyes pictured on that fall day nearly 100 years ago, what my own grandchildren will experience decades hence.

My youngest granddaughter, Abigail, born barely one week ago, could well live to see the close of the 21st century, as my grandmother saw the close of the 19th. Will her life be as dramatically different from beginning to end as my own grandmother's was? Probably. If Eva saw a man on the moon, Abigail is likely to see one on Mars, perhaps whole settlements. If Eva could travel halfway round the world, perhaps Abigail will travel beyond it. If Eva would live to see entire books embedded on a grain of sand, maybe Abigail will live to see the knowledge in those books able to be instantaneously transferred to the human mind.

No matter how great the technological change we imagine, the real change is likely to be greater still. Yet some things will remain the same. The next century will bring no Utopia. While the standard of living is likely to rise for everyone, some countries will grow richer much faster, while others will be left behind. Nor will human nature itself change. Man's capacity for good will continue to be challenged by his potential for evil. Wars will not end in the 21st century. The best we can hope for is that wars become rarer, quicker and less lethal than in the 20th century, with its millions dead.

And what of the family itself? Will the term grandmother still have the same meaning a hundred years from now? Or will test tubes have replaced mothers among the rich and educated, too busy to be bothered by pregnancy and childbirth? And will clones have made grandchildren mere identical twins of their own self-absorbed grandparents?

I hope not, for Abigail's sake. For what could be more precious than the link that joins one life span to the next? What could ever replace the love that passes on in memories handed down from generation to generation, as fragile as the picture of the little girl in the one-room school house 100 years ago?

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©1999, Creators Syndicate