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It’s About Time

It’s that time again when I have to adjust to ‘old time,’ the term Papa, my grandfather, used for standard time, and he called Daylight Savings Time ‘new time.’  It takes a while to get used to sunset at 4:50 p.m. and the sun shining brightly at 6:15 a.m. My body and brain don’t immediately adapt, but the most difficult change is when I travel across time zones. 

            Drive across the United States from Maine to California and you’ll go through four standard time zones.  Travel to Alaska takes you to another one and Hawaii covers two more, except Hawaii and Arizona don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, but the Navajo Nation, in northeastern Arizona, does observe Daylight Saving Time.

            This thinking about time sent me on a search to remember when and how time zones were established and to learn other exceptions.  The need for a standard time became necessary with the beginning of railroad travel.  Prior to 1883 there were over 300 local times across the United States.

            Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was adopted universally in 1884. The world is divided into zones by longitude, with each hour 15 degrees apart.  The starting point is the Prime Meridian, 0° longitude, that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole and passes through the Old Royal Observatory, in Greenwich, England, near London. Here in middle Tennessee we are in the GMT-6 (hours) Standard Time Zone so when it’s 4:00 p.m. in Greenwich, it’s 10:00 a.m., six hours earlier here. Counting around the world an hour difference for each fifteen degrees would mean there are twenty-four time zones. 

            Except, it doesn’t exactly work that way because some time zones are determined by political and geographical boundaries and some by choice.  So, there are forty time zones and all aren’t based on an hour.  India, Iran, Afghanistan, Burma, Newfoundland, Venezuela, and parts of Australia use half-hour differences from standard time.  I would be really confused traveling in Australia because there are three time zones: GMT+8, GMT+9½, and GMT+10. When it’s 4:00 p.m. on the west coast, it’s 5:30 p.m. in central Australia, and 6:00 p.m. on the east coast. 

            Time in some places is even more unusual. Nepal, a small country in the Himalayas and bordered by China and India, adopted GMT+5¾ in 1956, and the Chatham Islands in New Zealand is GMT+12¾ so those are 45 minutes past the hour. China is also unique; geographically it covers five time zones, but in 1949 the country established one time zone, Beijing time which is GMT+8.

            I imagine that the scientists from around the world who created Greenwich Mean Time in 1884 thought they’d set the world straight. But the lines for worldwide time zones are more crooked than the Caney Fork River. 

            Everybody just doesn’t go along with a plan.  Like Papa who never changed his clock that hung above the kitchen table to ‘new time’ because dinner was always eaten at 12:00 noon on ‘old time.’  


Back on Real Time

Papa would be happy.  Now we are back on real time as opposed to new time.  My grandfather, Paul Bertram, was a no nonsense man and somewhat set in his ways.  He was 31 in 1918 when Daylight Savings Time was first introduced in the United States, and now almost one hundred years later, I still think of him every time I move my clocks to spring forward or fall back.

I never heard Papa complain about Daylight Savings Time.  He made his statement by the clock that hung on the wall beside his and Grandma’s kitchen table.  It stayed on real time.  They ate on real time, and they went to bed and got up on real time.  Another clock hung on the living room wall close to the big console television.  Set on new time.

Papa was one of ­­­­six children and lived his whole live in Pickett County.  He built his and Grandma’s home within throwing distance of his parent’s home.  He was a carpenter and some say a self-taught engineer.  No problem was too great.  Solving a problem just took time and thought and work and patience.

Papa worked in Oak Ridge during the building boom, designed a water tank in Byrdstown in the 1950s to equip the new shirt factory with a sprinkler system, built houses to rent, and many by contract.  His houses were high quality, built to the owner’s specifications.  One house had electrical wall sockets three feet above the floor.  When he asked the homeowner where she wanted the plugs, she walked throughout her wood-framed home and pointed her finger at that level.  Papa penciled each place with an x and followed her directions.

One Christmas I didn’t understand why there was money in the pocket of the shirt that Papa and Grandma gave my daddy.  They had three daughters and three sons-in-law, and they treated each the same.  Dad’s shirt cost $2 less than the other two sons-in-law’s.  Papa expected everyone to be fair and honest, but sometimes he double-checked to be sure no one made a mistake.  More than one family member was embarrassed when he stood in the drugstore, poured the pills that the pharmacist has just put into a pill bottle into his hand, and counted.

Papa drove all over Pickett and the surrounding counties looking for good land.  Some he bought and later sold.  Whether his work for the day was building a house or trading land, he was always home by suppertime – five o’clock.  During the summer months, he ate fast so he could see the end of the evening news on TV.  When Daylight Savings Time ended, he could eat supper, take a little nap, and watch all of the 6:00 news.  And both clocks, the one in the kitchen and the one by the TV, were set on real time.