Growing up, I was not a fan of history classes. I had great teachers who came up with some fun projects, but I continued to like math much, much better. My dad took me to a few battlefields, but I really just focused on how much he was embarrasing me with all of his questions.
Luckily for me, I married a man who can't go past a historical marker without stopping to read it. Our vacations took no planning. We would drive the back-roads, say south, and stop whenever something caught our eye. With each stop, I began to appreciate his fascination. We'd stop at an unfinished mansion and hear the story of a family whose lifestyle came to an end with the beginning of the Civil War. We'd stop at a battlefield and see the bloodstains still on the floor of a house that was used as a hospital. We'd stop at a past-president's home and see the ordinary person that he really was. I found a love of learning about the past.
We have included our children in this from the beginning, and they also enjoy all of our historical stops. Every vacation includes at least one. They've been on an old submarine, they've been through old statehouses, they've visited old homesteads. And they have enjoyed them all.
This past summer, completely out of the blue, my dad asked if the kids and I would like to take a tour of the town in which my grandma, my dad, and I grew up. How is it possible that our love of history never took us to the story of our own? I eagerly jumped at the offer. The kids and I piled into the van, with my dad at the wheel. He spent more than two hours driving us around, showing and telling us of our family, as well as interesting stories of people and places around town.
We started with my grandma. We saw the house where she was born. We followed the route of her family literally carrying their furniture around the corner to the new house. (a house that I remember visiting when I was little) We heard of how her family survived the Depression. I was able to put the places with the stories that Grandma had told me over the years.
We moved on to my dad. We saw the houses he lived in. We saw the field where he and the neighborhood boys played baseball. We saw the school he attended, and heard funny stories of his time there. We went downtown and heard stories of his time as a policman.
We then heard and saw my history. We saw the houses where I lived. We saw the parks where I played and the school I attended. I was able to jump in and tell the kids some stories about me and their aunt and uncles. Dad was able to tell the real story behind some of my memories.
We ended the tour with luch at a resaurant started by my grandma's uncle. My grandma, my dad, and I all worked there. There is even a picture on the wall telling of our family being the only one to have four generations work there. It was a wonderful morning for all of us, and it is the perfect example of why we go through the immense time and effort to go home so many times each year.
On Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the kids and I went to Dad's house to get a start on the food for the next day. We weren't in the house five minutes when he said that he wanted to show us something. He first explained to the kids that he was a Marine in the Vietnam War. I knew this, and had heard a few stories. But he went on to say that he had been watching a TV special about the war on Veteran's Day. For the first time, he actually saw footage from the battles he was in. Goosebumps popped up all over my arms as he turned on the TV. On the screen, men were ducking behind bunkers. Men were practically falling out of airplanes as they dropped supplies to the men below. When a plane engulfed in flames came on, my dad said that he was on the ground and watched that plane land. He talked to the Marines in it, and heard what conditions he was then going to be expected to fly into. (Dad was the navigator on the plane.) View after view, my dad told us where he was and what he saw.
We've seen war footage. We've been to battlefields and imagined what it was like to be there. This was the first time that history smacked me in the face and left me speechless. I literally saw what my dad had been through. I could feel how terrified he had to have been. I realized how many times he came close to dying. I tear up every time I think about it.
I know that Dad is glad to have someone to share these memories with. It pales in comparison to how grateful I am to be the recipient of all of this family history. And to know that my kids are also enjoying the chance to hear it from him is the best part of it all.
So thank you, Dad, for trusting us with your stories. We will forever carry them in our hearts. And I promise to pass them on.
Have a lovely, history-filled day!