Wednesday, October 8, 2008

And How Long Have YOU Been Into History?

Conversations around the supper table - - - - - - -
Recently I asked my mom, who lives with us, how long have I been into history. She replied that she thinks I came out of the womb into history.
I believe she's right. I cannot remember a time when history wasn't on my mind. Thinking back to the late 1960's (which, I guess, is now ancient history in itself for many!) when I was learning to read, I asked for (and received) a couple of books from the school book fair. One was called "If You Lived In Colonial Times," and the other book was about Christopher Columbus. And I read - as best I could - those two books over and over from cover to cover. Every year from then on, I would purchase more books with a historical theme: "The Cabin Faced West," "The Ghost of Dibble Hollow," "Father's Big Improvements," and others I can't remember at this time, as well as the yearly "Guinness Book of World Records" with lots of historical facts and figures.

Then, in the early 1970's ('73, I believe), the Detroit News celebrated its 100th anniversary and put out a series of replica front pages of the newspaper covering the great events of the previous century. Of course, I collected every one - still got 'em.
And Life Magazine printed a book in the '70's called "The Best of Life," covering the era of the late 1930's through the early 1970's - not exactly my favorite era in history, but it was cool nonetheless.

As silly as it may sound now, I also ate up every TV show that had a historical theme. I say silly because, well, do you remember when Samantha and Darin on "Bewitched" went back in time to the Plymouth Colony? I loved it. How about when Aunt Clara brought George Washington and Ben Franklin to the present? Great stuff! Or when they found themselves in the time of King Henry the Eighth? Not American history, but still history.
If history was involved, I was glued to the set.
Of course, "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie" were watched weekly, although I would never admit it to my friends. Even the dumb nostalgia shows like "Happy Days" - not really history - was fun to watch, at least for the first two seasons. And, "Bonanza" was a family favorite, as were any of the John Wayne westerns that were shown. My father and I together would sit and watch every one of them whenever they were shown in this age before VHS and DVD.

Aside from the TV and books, I, without realizing it, sort of practiced an early form of living history. You see, the house I grew up in had two fireplaces and, after reading about how Abraham Lincoln would study by the light of his cabin's fireplace, I tried to do the same. I would turn off all the lights and sit at the hearth with a book and make the attempt to read. It was tough but, I figured if Abe could do it, so could I!
No other of my friends willingly went to this extent to get a feel of what it was like to live in the past. I was the sole nut.
It also helped quite a bit that my mother would burn candles from September through around Easter time. They were normal everyday candles, not the perfumed fancy garbage that are 'in' today. It seemed like we had light flickering from the fire in the fireplace and from candlelight lit our rooms nearly as often as the electric lights. Well, maybe not that much, but it was quite often.
And when I found out that the home we were living, built in 1941, was actually built using bricks from a 19th century building, I was elated! That was close to living in a Victorian home, I felt!

It was during this time (the early '70's) that, while playing outside, I would also pretend to be living in the colonial and pioneer days, as I'm sure other kids did. If it was a good day, I could get a friend or two to play along with me. Our own early form of reenacting, so to speak. And this sort of pretending was especially fun if we were up at the cottage in Lexington where woods and trails abounded. Now that made for great "living history!"
(I would also pretend to be one of The Beatles during this time, but that's another story!)

With me begging and pleading, my parents finally took me, at about age 10 or 11, to Greenfield Village. You would have thought it was Christmas, that's how excited I was. Walking along the cobblestoned and bricked streets of the Village, horses and carriages clip-clopping by, Model T's chugging past, the steamboat's paddle wheel splashing, and the locomotive train ride that bordered the entire Village - I was in heaven. To top it off, visiting inside the old homes and seeing period dressed docents milling about, and also watching the blacksmith - "ol' smithy" - pound the glowing metal into a horseshoe, made for a fine day in the past. I even got a souvenir, of which I still have - a set of picture cards showing some of the houses, cars, and other Village scenes.

Then came the bicentennial year of 1976. What a great time to be a history buff! The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press had weekly articles and specials about America's (and Detroit's) colonial period, as did the TV with the movies and documentaries. Colonial themed festivals and parades also took place that year. Even a replica of an old sailing vessel blew through the Great Lakes.
And I was loving it.

But, like most teens boys, driving and girls took precedence and I left history for a number of years to pursue, well, driving and girls. And Punk and New Wave music, too.

Let's jump ahead a few years to 1982 when I met the girl I would one day marry. Our first date consisted of going to see "E.T." at the drive in movie theater and out to eat at the local Big Boys. Our conversation? Believe it or not, much of it was spent on the topic of music. Then, as the night wore on, we - well, I - turned the conversation to the subject of history. It was more like history lite - I didn't want to scare her off. But, guess what? I discovered she had a passion for traditional crafts and revered the past as well. We both even had the same dreams and hopes of one day owning a real Victorian home and living a traditional lifestyle. No kidding.
The year we were married, we bought our first antique - a mantel clock from the 1880's, and have continued to feed our thirst for antiquing and period living ever since. We, too, burn an awful lot of candles, although we have no real fireplace (yet!).

Of course, we now reenact the era of the Civil War and are able to live in that period - one weekend at a time - much to our pleasure. And, yes, our pseudo Victorian, as I call our 1944 bungalow) is heavily decorated in the mid-19th century style with (mostly) original antiques from that period.

(click the link)

To folks who participate in Living History...

I still collect books of a historical nature. It's funny, however, that the stodgy old history books from school never interested me. They spoke of names and dates, but that always bored me. I always wanted to know about how people lived - how they lived their daily lives from sun up to sun know, social history. That's where most of my historical interests lie. Believe it or not, I didn't do very well in history class in school because of the names and dates, and now, history teachers call on me for information! I love it!

To repeat (for the 2nd time) my favorite quote (from Henry Ford):
"History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet."
That's exactly the way I feel.


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