13-Grandpa’s Time Machine
“What is it Grandpa?” I said looking up at him with big saucer eyes.
“I call it a thing-a-ma-jig little buddy for lack of a better term, but I’ll come up with a better name.” He said with a smile. It was a smile forever burned into my memory.
“What does it do Grandpa?”
“Well why don’t you climb up here on old Grandpa’s lap and we’ll see what it does.”
“Ok” And with that, I adjusted my PJ’s and climbed up onto his lap. We both sat and studied the contraption sitting on the kitchen table for a bit till Grandma came down the hall and into the kitchen.
“Hi Grandma, look what Grandpa’s got. It’s called a thing-a-ma-jig.”
“Good morning sweetheart. What does it do?” She said.
“We don’t know, but we’re gonna see what it does.” I said looking up into her face.
We watched it while Grandma filled the coffee pot and started it percolating. Soon the kitchen was filled with that familiar aroma. It reminded me of the A&P store on the corner across from their house. She took the old iron skillet from the oven and gently placed it on the stovetop.
Eggs were sizzling in the pan and the toast popped up. We still stared at the contraption siting on the kitchen table.
“What are you going to do with that old thing grandpa, and where in the world did you get it?” She asked as she set two plates full of fried potatoes and eggs in front of he and I.
“He’s not going to eat that much Martha. What do you think he is a horse?”
I laughed at that.
“He’s a growing boy and if you don’t fill him up, he’ll be back in here looking for something else to eat in no time.” Grandma said.
“All right, all I’m saying is, I’m not eating after him.”
Nobody’s asking you to Harley, just eat your breakfast so I can clean up. I’ve got to go to a church meeting later this morning and I can’t be late.”
We ate our breakfast in silence except for the whoosh-whoosh of the dishwasher and I couldn’t take my eyes off that electronic contraption.
It had lenses like those old studio cameras from the TV stations back in the 50’s. They weren’t as big, but it did have three lenses that you could turn to select a different one. He had taken an old shortwave radio apart and mounted it in the bottom with holes drilled in the side to let the tuning and volume controls stick out. The top and back would come off so he could adjust things in there and when he did, I could see all kinds of electrical things and wires and tubes that glowed orange when it was turned on. It looked real neat inside.
The first time we set it up was in the garage. After he was sure it worked and wouldn’t explode or burn the house down, we moved it into the living room.
“You see the way this works little buddy, he always called me that, we’ll tune into something and make some adjustments to fine tune what comes in and we’ll project it into the smoke from these two smoke machines and we’ll be able to see it right here in front of us.” He said.
“Won’t Grandma get mad about us putting smoke everywhere?” I said.
“It’s not really smoke, it’s more like steam, but we have to have something to project our image on. We could probably use a sheet from the bed but it wouldn’t work the same. Let’s give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.”
“OK.” I said.
He set up the two smoke machines on opposite sides of the garage and turned them both on. Soon the center of the garage was filled with the white smoke so thick you couldn’t see anything else. He flipped a switch on the projector and after a few seconds the red light on the side went from red to blue. When it went blue I couldn’t believe my eyes, I rubbed them to see if what I saw was really there.
It was me and I was riding my old tricycle. It wasn’t just a picture there in the smoke, you could see me in the smoke and I was riding that old tricycle. It was the one long since given to the GoodWill store. I inched myself closer and cautiously put my hand out to touch the handlebars of the trike but my hand went right through it.
“It’s a hologram.” Grandpa said.
“What else can we see?” I said.
“Let’s take it inside the living room and set it up and see what we can get.”
With that, we took it apart and moved it into the living room and set it all back up again.
This time when Grandpa flipped the switch, it wouldn’t come on. Grandpa studied all the wires and switches and couldn’t see anything wrong. He then opened up the top and reached inside to see if something came loose inside and when he did there was a loud crack and some sparks and smoke.
“Son of a bitch.” He said.
“Watch your language Harley!”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re not the one that just got the be-jesus scared out of you. Plus the damn thing shocked me.”
“Harley.” Grandma yelled at him again.
“It burned out the filament in this tube when it shorted.” He said and pointed to one of the larger tubes over by the big transformer.
Grandpa came back from the garage with another old tube and plugged it in. This time the lights lit up as before and it sat there humming waiting to show us more things. He turned on the smoke machines and then got down on his knees and adjusted the tuning knob along with the lenses to bring into focus a scene from a long time ago. All the people wore long black coats and tall top hats. There was a man up on a platform standing at the box like they have in church and he was reading from a piece of paper.
I sat and stared wide eyed at the magical drama playing out in front of me.
Grandpa said, “well I’ll be. That’s Lincoln. Martha come in here quick and look at this, you’ll never believe your eyes.”
She said, “I wonder if that’s the Gettysburg address?”
“How did you find that Grandpa? I asked.
“Yeah, how did you find that Grandpa?” Grandma said.
“I have no idea, little buddy, I have no idea,” He said slowly as he stared at it.
We all watched and even Grandma sat with her eyes glued to that scene. Then it faded away and all there was left was the smoke in the living room.
“What happened Grandpa? Where did it go?” I said.
“I don’t know. Maybe we’re just tuning into some packet of frequencies from the past and when the energy within the packet is strong enough we can pull in the signal and when the energy level drops we can no longer receive it.
Grandma got up and went back to the kitchen to fix lunch and Grandpa and I continued trying to tune in something else from the past.
“Grandpa, can we tune in something from the future that hasn’t happened yet?”
“Well I don’t know, but I don’t see why not.” He said.
He tuned once again and out of the smoke we were watching as Pete Rose took the plate for the Cincinnati Reds and with the crack of the bat though we couldn’t hear it we could see it was a grand slam bringing three other players in before he trotted across home plate. Then the scene faded away.
Grandpa said, “That was the one and only grand slam in Pete’s career.”
I went with Grandma to the grocery store while Grandpa tinkered around with the time machine. When we returned, Grandpa was just finishing the adjustments inside and closing the lid.
“Let’s see what we can get now,” with an excited voice that made him somehow sound younger.
The big airplane appeared in the smoke and the door to the plane opened and a black woman came out waving to the crowd below.
“What is this Grandpa,” I said.
“Well if I’m not mistaken, he said, it looks as though we’re going to have a black female president sometime in the future. That’s Air Force One, the Presidents private plane.”
We had lunch and then settled in to watch some more future events but when he tuned it to some future scene it looked like a hospital room with people standing over the bed. He quickly reached for the power switch and flipped it off. I looked up into his face and it was a mix of sadness and fear. I asked him what it was he saw but he would not talk about it and that was the last time we ever used his time machine.
Grandpa and Grandma are both gone now. The time machine projector has been collecting dust in the garage. I haven’t found the time to hook it all up but I plan to go back and see what scared him so. Maybe tomorrow.