Monday, March 26, 2007

History's Meaning to Me: Family

Inspired by the This I Believe project, “a national media project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives,” this week I have decided to take a departure from my typical blog post to bring a more personal perspective to the decisions that led to the selection of history as a concentration. Perhaps the strongest influence on my historical tendencies has been family. Throughout my childhood there was always a strong emphasis placed on the importance of family and the quality time spent with each other. To strengthen what my parents called our “family unit,” they planned two four-week vacations for us. The first vacation took place when I was only six years old and now as a junior in college it was far too young an age to be fully appreciated, or remembered, the things that I saw and experienced. The second trip was at a much more pivotal time in my life where I was receptive to the various national parks and monuments where we were stopping. Prior to this trip in the summer of 1995 I had never acknowledged much outside my world than school and the walls of our house. I was exposed to spectacular natural wonders such as Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (pictured at the left), Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Despite all of the wonderful qualities of America’s natural wonders there was one occasion when I knew that my life would never be the same. I had officially fallen in love with history. The infatuation day was the day we visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield (also known as the location of Custer’s Last Stand) as a family. It was a calm sunny day when we drove up to the battlefield. After listening to a short presentation in the location museum by one of the park rangers about what had taken place during that fateful encounter between the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer (pictured at right) and his men in 1876, we moved out to the battlefield. On the battlefield is where my life changed. The minute that we stepped on to that ground a silence fell upon the tourists. No one had to tell me, a child of nine, to hush up and be respectful. For it was not just another field that we were setting foot on, it was a resting place for many restless souls. We were hit with the overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by those taken before their time. With each progressive step the sensation grew stronger and stronger. My mother took my hand in hers and squeezed it softly as we made our way to a small enclosure in the distance with my father and older sister shuffling softly hand in hand ahead of us. As we approached the seemingly insignificant non-threatening black iron fence the reality of what it housed within its four sides hit. There marked, with what can only be described as miniature head stones (pictured at left), were the actual locations where Custer and others fell in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Among those numerous white markers, one has been seared into my memory forever. It was unlike the others: in the very center stood Custer’s marker staring at me with its plaque of startling blackness (pictured at right). Not until we reached the parking lot, opened our doors, sat in our seats, buckled our seatbelts did we actually speak.

After experiencing something so powerful as to see where history was actually made, where people had fallen, my life was never the same. I was not able to get enough of history from that point on. The decisions and actions of people is the main reason why I find history so interesting and have developed such a strong affinity for it. Without the determination of my family to take those trips it may have been years before I discovered the enormity of history, in fact I may never have come face to face with history as I did that one day in 1995. For this reason, history to me means family, without family there would be no history.

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