Thursday, December 20, 2012

History - My Journey of Love

My personal copy of "A Little Maid of Bunker
Hill," by Alice Turner Curtis;
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
New York, 1952
(A reprint of the original
1927 edition.)
I’ve often wondered over the years why I came to love history so much.  I’ve had many passions in my life (as you can probably tell if you’ve read my profile description), but the love of history has been with me on and off since I was a little girl.

My favorite books in early elementary school were the series of books written by Alice Turner Curtis called the “Little Maid” books. I would get lost in the history of each of those little girls and could completely imagine myself living during those times and experiencing what they did.  My all-time favorite was “A Little Maid of Bunker Hill” pictured on this page. As an adult, I’ve purchased a few of those books just to own them, re-read them and to remember how much joy they had brought me. I’m pretty sure that reading those books was the beginning of my love of history, but I’m also fairly convinced that it might have been a genetic thing; something that was inside me that I would not be able to escape.

We had wonderful teachers in elementary school, all of whom obviously brought to life that interest and love of history that was innately within me. I can also remember trips that our family would take within my state.  I would stare out of the car window wondering what it must have been like for those first settlers in our area to travel through the wilderness, crossing our long state from the mountainous regions in the east as they sought places to settle.  I could almost feel myself a part of those travels.  A vivid imagination I had, for sure!
I also remember affectionately the study of the ancient world in the 6th grade and even have distinct memories of the beautiful blue book that we used.  It had a photo of a bas relief sculpture at the front of the book, and I remember looking at that photo over and over and thinking about the people who carved it, wondering what they must have been like. 

Unfortunately, I have no particularly good memories of history or social studies classes after that. 
My junior high social studies teachers made no impact on me whatsoever. I don’t even remember them.  How sad is that?  In high school, my World History teacher was a great guy who was also a coach, but the only good memories I have of his class were the times when we could get him ‘off topic.’ He would tell us stories about his days on a submarine during World War II, and that was genuinely fascinating.  He made the history of WWII real to me, and I believe to the whole class as well.  We really loved him. Obviously, we got him ‘off topic’ quite often!
During my senior year, I took American History. My teacher had a law degree (bless his heart) and was the head football coach.  He would come into class with a briefcase that contained his history book, his roll book, the class papers, and who knows what else.  We often speculated about that. After systematically calling the roll, he would then proceed to pull out the book and read it to us!  I could not make this up. Needless to say, I brought my art of note-passing to near perfection that year and made lots of great friends. Sorrowfully, I can also say that I didn’t “know much about history.” 
With that interest in history waning quickly, my love of French and music were growing much stronger.
Yes, I did say music, which may be a shock for any of you who know me personally.  Although you wouldn’t know it today, I had taken piano lessons for many years and had been first chair clarinet soloist in junior high school, as well as a majorette. I switched to choir in high school because the band at my high school was a concert band.  What?  No majorettes?  I wanted to perform, and I was most certainly able to do that in choir. Consequently, vocal music became my field of choice and one that I would pursue into my years in college.
College. A whole new world. I went to a college away from home during my freshman year and had the most wonderful French teacher ever. He made the class fascinating and engaged us completely in the learning process. I used to dream in French! I was also involved in the music department and was a member of the University Chorus and Glee Club. I was truly in my element with both subjects.
But history?  Dear Lord.  My Western Civilization teacher was a total horror.  The tradition at our university was that on the first day of class, you would go in and be told what books and materials you would need, be given a first assignment, and then be allowed to leave.  All of that would take about 15 to 20 minutes tops.  After giving us that information, this fellow (or I guess I should say ‘Doctor’ to be gracious about it) proceeded to say the following words, which I’ll never forget in my entire life: “My first lecture will be Pre-Literate Culture.”  Yikes! Everyone in the class started scrambling around, borrowing paper in order to have enough to begin taking notes for the entire hour.  It was a complete nightmare, and add to that the fact that he was deadly dull.  When I found out that I’d have to continue with the same teacher if I wanted to take the second semester of “Western Civ,” I chose to forgo the option and dropped it altogether after the first semester.  Good choice, as it turned out.
When I returned home the next year to my hometown university, I took the second semester of Western Civ and had the honor and pleasure to be taught by the head of the History Department.  I absolutely hung on his every word! My love of history was sparked again, and I will have to say that each and every history teacher I had at that university was awesome. I soaked in every word that they said and devoured every book that I could.  (Total geek…I know.)
In contrast, the French teacher I had was an old bat, to put it mildly, and I only took two more years of French, gaining a minor in the subject, but not cheerfully. Music, on the other hand, was still wonderful.  I was in theory classes, taking vocal music for credit on a private basis with a local ‘legend,’ and was a member of the University Chorus and the Girls Glee Club.  I just knew that music would be my major. As much as I loved history, music was still my life – I was sure that one day I would be a world-renowned singer or performer! (Or, at the very least, a music teacher.)
Funny how things change. It dawned on me one day at the beginning of my junior year that I was rushing out of the music building to go to a sorority meeting or some other social event and that everyone else was in the music department practice rooms.  I almost never spent any time in the practice rooms. Uh-oh. Not good. I realized then and there (and I truly remember that day and that “ah-ha” moment) that I might need to re-think my major – yet again.  And what would I do with a Liberal Arts degree anyway? 
I decided that I would use my knowledge of French to be an international airline stewardess, but who knew that you had to be at least 5 feet 6 inches tall?  I was only 5’ 3 ½”.  That half inch was very important to me, but it wasn’t enough to qualify me for my chosen profession!  (I’m not even 5’2” now, but we won’t go there…)  I also considered becoming a translator at the United Nations. How exciting that would be! New York City…maybe even a stint at the State Department in Washington, D.C.  What a thought, indeed.
But in the end, my love of history already had its hold on me. I managed somehow to pick up my teaching certification during my senior year.  I was determined to become a teacher who would inspire my students to love history, or at the very least, not hate it.  I wanted to be the teacher that my history teachers had not been.
I hope that I succeeded at least to some degree in accomplishing that goal. After changing my major so many times during college, I was pretty sure that teaching history would allow me to indulge in my love of the numerous other things that interested me. I could always work those topics into a history curriculum, and I would certainly be able to perform! Teachers, quite naturally, have the stage every day. Needless to say, I was one of those teachers who could get ‘off topic’ with the best of them. (We teachers call it ‘bird-walking.’  Don’t ask me why; probably the idea of hopping from topic to topic. Hmmm. Yep, that was me.) But I want to add right here and now that many of those times remain the best ‘teaching moments’ in my whole career.  I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t do so well in the classroom today, since teachers have rigid guidelines that must be met for the dreaded TEST.  Nope. I think the true joy of teaching has been taken away from teachers in today’s world, but that’s a “whole ‘nother story,” as they say.
Tracing family history was most certainly one of those things that I often worked into my history curriculum. I’ve been amazed at the number of my former students who’ve connected with me on Facebook and who have let me know that they, too, are tracing their family’s history.  Hallelujah!  True validation that there was some success.
Looking back over the years, I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t had those wonderful teachers in my elementary school and those remarkable history professors at my hometown university. I had certainly not had many junior or senior high history teachers who had inspired me, and I could have easily followed another one of those many paths that interested me.  I’m so thankful, though, that my inherent love of history prevailed, and that I did have those many, many years of trying to instill my own love of history into younger generations.
My secret wish over the years has been to write history books for students on the middle school level based on the historical research I’ve done on my own family – basically a version of my own “Little Maid” books.  I just knew that I’d do that as soon as I retired. But the strange thing is that I seem to have that same problem with having way too many interests that I’ve had my whole life. I’ll start to write something, then find a book I really want to read; and then I’ll remember that I was working on a line to qualify for a lineage society and will return to that research.  Or maybe I’ll work on some friend’s ancestry for them - I have a few ‘private’ trees on for that purpose. Then I’ll find myself looking over the numerous antiques and collectibles books I have trying to decide what I should sell and for how much, or I’ll begin reading the two archaeological magazines to which I subscribe. Of course there are the genealogical, historical and lineage society meetings that I always seem to be rushing off to (sound familiar?), and the luncheons and dinners that I try to have with friends.  (Lately, try is the key word there.)
And finally, of course, there is that thing called Life. I just can’t seem to get my act together, and neither my husband’s health, nor my own, have been very cooperative. Maybe one day I’ll actually get around to writing that book. I have tons of ideas for it, naturally. But for now I’m just trying to keep up with this blog - and not doing a very good job of that.
Um…well, looking back, maybe I should have become an archaeologist. I can just see me climbing over rocks, trekking through the desert or some other god-forsaken region, digging into dirt-filled sites, and making that wonderful discovery.
Oh, sure. Never mind…and quit laughing!

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