by Samuel Ben White
Sitting at the kitchen table in the house I grew up in on Bickley Street in Abilene, my father and I were discussing time travel. Having watched a rerun of “Star Trek” the night before, we were discussing what we would do if we could travel through time. Where would we go? Is there something we would change?
What if, we conjectured, we could travel back in time and take the place of someone in the past? (This was long before the show “Quantum Leap”, mind you!) What if one of us were to travel back in time and take the place of Patrick Henry in March of 1775? What if he had never made his famous, “Give me liberty or give me death” speech and we were to take his place? Would we give it? From there, we began to wonder what the United States might have been like if Henry had never given that speech. Would things have been different?
I had always wanted to be an author, since it first dawned on me that those wonderful stories—both true and fictional—that my parents read to me every day were written by someone. I started by drawing cartoon stories and getting my sisters to letter them for me (one sister always wanted to edit, one sister wrote just what I dictated, and the other sister tried not to help at all—if they’re reading this, I’ll let them try to guess which one I am remembering in each role). By first grade, I was excited to learn my letters and words so I could start writing my own stories and filling in the word balloons on my own cartoons. (I still do that, by the way, drawing a comic strip for the local newspaper that’s read by upwards of a dozen people!)
Through junior high and high school, I sat up to all hours at that old namebrand-less typewriter hacking away at story after story. Fantasy stories about the end of the world, detective stories that managed to rip off both James Bond and Magnum P.I., a western mash-up of Louis L’Amour and James Michener. All of these flowed from my fingers and through that type-writer. When one of my sisters and her husband—while between jobs—had to move back in with us for a while, I think it was the clickety-clack of my typing that drove them to take jobs they didn’t really want just so they could get out of the house.
Time passed, as did college and the first months of marriage, with a myriad of stories (and comic strips) being produced, and always that long-ago conversation about changing the course of the Revolution with time travel bounced through my mind but never quite made it to paper (or, by then, the ethereal saving mechanism of a computer). In that first summer of marriage, as I got off work before my wife, I had about an hour each day and I sat down at my old Commodore 64 and began to type out the story I had been thinking of for more than a decade.
Garison Fitch, an eccentric, middle-aged bachelor of a lawyer living in Fairplay, Colorado, begins to experiment with … something scientific. No, not Fairplay. Where? What if Garison were to live in La Plata Canyon? I had been there, back in college when I had spent a summer as the youth minister for the First Christian Church of Farmington, New Mexico. Somewhere in that canyon was Louis L’Amour’s vacation home. Yes! Perfect place to put Garison Fitch. I even knew the meadow that would become his front yard.
And then Garison got younger, because as a young man myself I thought he needed to be younger to be active. And his experiments: what would he experiment with? What if, in an attempt to prove that there were more dimensions that currently accepted, he were to travel through time? He travels to the past, and does what we’re always told time travel couldn’t do: change history. But what if it did? Got it! What if Garison grows up in a world that’s very different from ours, but something he does in the past changes history and creates the world we know? Suddenly, the story was flying as Garison grew up in a Soviet-dominated American continent, a world where everyone was worried that the two super-powers—Russia and Japan—were about to start World War III. I began by creating the back story of how the world could have gotten to that point.
Finally, I had to ask myself, “What changed? What’s the pivotal point and how can Garison be the one who changes it?” I tried to have Garison interact with Patrick Henry but—as much as I admire Pat—I just couldn’t convince myself that he was the pivotal character in history. At least, not the history I wanted.
So, where and how could Garison change history? At the battle of Concord? At the Constitutional Convention? At the Delaware River? And then it occurred to me that some of the most influential moments in history are the moments we know almost nothing about and seem inconsequential at the time. The private who changed the course of D-Day when he told Eisenhower that June 6 was the birthday of Rommel’s wife and the German leader would be away from the front. The farrier who, in trying to save a nail for economy, loses the horse and—subsequently—the battle. I knew Garison needed to do not something big, but “small”. Some little butterfly of an event that changes history by sending those insignificant little colonies on a victorious trajectory against the mightiest empire of the day.
A little boy who would be a general one day playing at troop movements in the dirt. A speeding dray wagon with an angry driver. A fellow from the future who shouldn’t have been on that road at all. More than two decades after the original conversation with my father, it all coalesced into a wonderful time travel fantasy about the power of one man to change the world which I titled, “First Time: The Legend of Garison Fitch”.
Author Samuel Ben White
Samuel Ben White (“Sam” to his friends) is the author of the national newspaper comic strip “Tuttle’s” (found at www.tuttles.net) and the on-line comic book “Burt & the I.L.S.” (found at www.destinyhelix.com). He is married and has two sons. He serves his community as both a minister at a small church and a chaplain with hospice. In addition to his time travel stories, Sam has also written and published detective novels, a western, three fantasy novels and four works of Christian fiction.