Time: A simple word we find impossible to define - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Time: A simple word we find impossible to define

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
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Dolly Withrow is a retired English professor and the author of four books. Contact her at ritewood@aol.com.

"Time is an illusion." — Albert Einstein 

We can spell it, say it, hear it, write it and read it, but we cannot define it. The word "time" is indescribable. Time can stand still or slow down or speed up. Time can be ugly or beautiful. Part of time's beauty invites us to travel back through it. 

On this cold December day, I journey back through time to my green world of childhood. Sitting at a round pedestal table with claw-and-ball feet, I watch my Grandmother Frame stand in front of the gas stove, which sits cattycorner in our large kitchen. Wearing three layers of petticoats beneath a cotton dress, which is covered with a half apron, she stirs brown gravy while her made-from-scratch biscuits bake and coffee perks, bubbling a syncopated rhythm. 

It is a Saturday morning, and like a glass filled to the brim, the day is filled with glorious free time. Grandview Grade School is closed for the weekend. I won't have to be reprimanded, and embarrassed, for coloring ducks a bright blue. I won't have to dodge the baseball zooming across the playground. I won't have to wonder if the kids will play with me during recess. Shy and insecure in the first three years at Grandview, I dread most weekdays. 

On this Saturday, though, time is my own. I can cross the dirt road in front of our house and walk down a sloping yard to the Gillispies to see what my friends are planning for the day. We have choices and we have time. We can saunter out the dusty road to the cemetery and on to the brickyard tipple where mechanical blades churn reluctant clay, which is then scooped into large metal containers. Heavy with their load, they glide on strong cables across Washington Street, moving toward Standard Brick & Supply Company where the clay is made into bricks.

Our gang might decide to explore (yet again) Brickyard Hill behind our house. There are dangerous hills to climb and snakes to avoid. Sometimes, we find a dead bird in need of a decent burial. We attend to that. One steep hill has a visible pipeline. On this day, we scramble up beside it, and coming down, my friends cling to the pipe, lest they fall. I decide to run down the side, and I do, zipping down faster and faster. I can't slow down, and at the bottom, I fall. My chin slams against a rock. Later, my mother tells me she looked up the hill, and my friends were carrying me home. She thought I was dead. But in this early-dawn time, I am still young and soon shall be exploring life once more.

Time moves me into middle school where I act in a play. My name in the play is Corrine Walsh, and the boy to whom I feed my lines forgets his words. His forgetting throws everything off. We don't pull things together after that, and I fear our teacher is angry. Mercifully, the play ends, and we each begin playing other roles in real life, always playing roles until we hardly ever get to know who we really are. We are, after all, still developing into adults, when we'll play yet other roles.

Time passage ushers me into Stonewall Jackson High School on Charleston's West Side. There, I get a shorthand award and learn how to type, a skill I'll use for several years. After graduation, I cannot afford college. Instead, I become a secretary — a stressful job. Making little money, I move from company to company until at last I work at a chemical plant. At 23, I marry and five years later, my husband and I are expecting our first child. In time, we become the proud parents of a son and daughter. We watch our children grow. When they are in middle school, I enter college, and unlike grade school, I love every minute of college.

Watching my grandmother when I was a child, I could never have imagined I would become a wife, mother and college professor. Time holds surprises we cannot imagine. Now, on this December evening, I live in the present. Our son and daughter have sons of their own, and they watch them grow older. Looking in the mirror, a face looks back at me on which time has drawn a map lined with my victories and losses, my disappointments and triumphs, my sorrows and delights. 

We cannot define the word "time," but just as we can see the effects of wind, we can also see the effects of time. Time brings about the loss of loved ones, friends, acquaintances and colleagues. If we live long enough, we understand the truth of the King James Version of Ecclesiastes 1:4. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever." It's all about time.