Thursday, April 29, 2010

We've Got History

I am not a native Californian.

I was born in New Jersey (Exit 5), moved to Maryland at age six and spent the next ten years singing Maryland My Maryland and strolling the cobbled streets of Annapolis.  We moved to California when I was sixteen. The Spanish names hit me like a knock down ice cold Pacific Ocean wave.  El Camino Real, Paseo unlike the Pine Trails and Holly Lanes of my childhood.  As we passed the enormous statue of Junipero Serra off the 280, pointing at...pointing at...what?

I didn't care.

Nope.  I was not interested.  I was an Anglophile...a J.R.R. Tolkienophile...  I cared nothing for the Spanish Missions or the Mexican rancheros.  I couldn't even work up much enthusiasm for the 49ers.  I liked old English names that felt quaint and cozy.  You can take your Los Gatos, I'll have my Fox Hollow, thanks.

So as my kids grew I began to be sad that they were missing out on American History by growing up here.  I tried to make up for it when I could, like when the Nina docked at Santa Cruz.  But they wouldn't get the fifth grade trip to Williamsburg that I had so enjoyed, nor would they come across old bottles when digging in the woods.  Sniff.  So I decided to do something about it.  They couldn't grow up immersed in colonial history, but Evelyn could have a fifth grade trip and we'd all go along for the ride.  I planned out a Revolutionary Road Trip.  We spent six weeks traveling from St. Augustine, FL to Boston, MA.

It was even better than I imagined.  We got accidentally locked in the Castillo San Marcos after closing, we sifted pipe stems and pot shards out of the dump behind George Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge,

But something both funny and necessary happened at Williamsburg.  I was there loving it, being so happy that my kids could have this essential American experience, when a docent asked where everyone in the group was from.  My kids said, "California!"  And the guide said, "Aw.  I feel so sorry for people from California.  You have no history."  And in that moment I saw myself as if in a mirror, and the spell upon me was broken.  I saw my prejudice against California history for what it was: ridiculous!

At the end of the trip I made this vow:

If anything this trip has given me a profound sense that time is short for the vast wealth of things there are to do and see in this world. I vow that when I am home I will not return to sluggish complacency. When I see them, I am going to turn off and follow where the park signs lead.

And we have.  There was this Point of Historical Interest, for instance.  Sometime during the course of this year I decided that we'd done the fifth grade Colonial American experience for Evelyn, so we'd do the quintessential fourth grade experience for Clementine.  Not that we care about grade levels or anything...I just have this paranoia that my kids will feel that they missed something by not going to if something schools do seems particularly fun I try to make it happen.

So we toured old Monterey and learned about the whaling trade and Spanish and Mexican periods.  We'd been to Empire Mine before, and Marshall Gold Discovery Park.

But I wanted to do the gold rush right and proper, immersion style.  The last month or so while I've been barely present here in the blogosphere I was planning a two day trip to live like miners in canvas cabins at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.  We'd cook over an open fire, dip candles, make lanterns, and visit the diggins.  Well, on Monday and Tuesday we were there.

Check back in a few days to see how it went.


Carolyn said...

Oooh, gold rush tales. I can't wait!

AM said...

Did you find the mother lode? Is college paid for?!

Kat said...

Love it! Isn't it amazing that the Earth is actually the same age everywhere we go, it just holds it's secrets and tells it's history in different ways. Loved this (and all your other posts). And loved being immersed in your next post.

Kristin said...

The Ohlone Way will give you a glimpse of local Native American and natural history that will blow your mind.

Susan said...

Kat, yes, it is. I was listening to a great series called A History of the World in 100 objects by BBC Radio 4. It tells human history through 100 objects at the British Museum. In the introductory segment they talk about human history as one continuous story that ends here and is picked up there all over the world. Oh, and thank you so much for your kind words!

Kristin, where is the Ohlone Way? We have done several programs on the Ohlone, but would love to learn more. Evelyn and Clementine are particularly into handicrafts and herb lore.

marta said...

I'm a long-time reader but I've never commented. I'm in and from Portugal, one of the oldest countries in the world (founded in the 12th century and roughly the same borders now as back then) and a history major. So when I went to the States for the first time some years ago I was amazed, not at how young your country is but how well you preserve and cherish the "young" history you have - from Staten Island to Wisconsin I learned bits and pieces of your history in museums, indian reservations, historic and non-historic villages, people in the streets...
In Europe people assume history must be at least 400 years old to be interesting (me included, until that eye-opening trip!). But it hasn't to be so. History is yesterday - it's there to re-read, re-watch, re-interpret with today's mind.

I really appreciate your blog! I have 3 kids (10, 8 and 5) who go to school (virtually no one has ever heard of homeschooling around here) but keep referring to you and other blogs for interesting stuff. Thank you!

Marta from Lisbon, Portugal

Susan said...

Marta, I'm astounded that I have a long time reader in Portugal! You made my day. And you are so right--I have been thinking a lot about how young this country is and how recent its history--but it is a gift in that we go to Europe and are blown away by how old things are. I didn't know Portugal was one of the oldest countries in the world.

marta said...

Hi Susan!
I've just realized that you've answered my comment ;)

Check out Anthony R Disney's A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire ( 2 vols, Cambridge University Press, 2009).
It is a comprehensive and well written history of the country (it only runs til the early 19th century, though). It's a good read.
Enjoy it if you get the chance!

Marta from Lisbon, Portugal