The Past Made Young

100_2841What kind of evidence do previous generations leave to show that they lived?  I sometimes find myself thinking of them as characters in a book. Pictures add some life, but still portray them as one-dimensional beings. Did they really live in the full sense of the word? Did they have experiences we may still have today or share the same feelings? We cannot brush against them in time, but may find a connection in place or through writing. When we walk the halls of an old home or school (though the building has changed hands many times since) we can sometimes imagine them walking in the same hall. Our life somehow intersects with theirs. If we read the teasing post card sent to a younger brother (delivered decades ago, yet not so different from the text we just sent our own little brother) we start to see what made their life meaningful.

The other week at a yardsale, I found a 1939 yearbook from Lynchburg College. I loved finding a piece of local history, but was even more thrilled that the yearbook was filled with personal notes from friends and faculty beautifully written in the margins. Dorothy Dancy’s name was on the inside cover.  By the time I got to the back cover and had pieced together the little notes to her, as well as her official mentions in the sophomore class and various clubs, I felt that I could envision her in more than one dimension. She was from North Carolina, but had moved to Lynchburg. She was a thespian and had starred in The Importance of Being Earnest that year. Most people referred to her as “cute” or “little”. She had worked at the library and many teased her about how she had made them all be quiet. One girl joked about the time they had ended up with two cute senior boys in the gym. Yes, she underlined “cute”, not me. Others gave fatherly advice, some offered clichés.

In doing a little more research online, I found out whom she later married (to my disappointment, he was not another student mentioned in the yearbook). In the index of students, it listed the street addresses of the local students. I know the family that now lives in Dorothy’s house. Five or six other students lived within just a few blocks of me. I am trying to imagine the people in the yearbook walking around my neighborhood. They probably passed in front of my house regularly and maybe even had been in it. I wonder if they rode to school together, or went fishing on the James River, or went dancing down town. I wonder how many of them died in WWII not long after those yearbook photos were taken. I wonder if there is any student from that yearbook still alive, maybe still close by in the city of their alma mater.

 

At the same yardsale, I also found a scrapbook a mother had made for her son (Proctor Hoskins) in the late 30s and 40s. School supplies lists, handwriting practice, and coloring pages were stuffed in the book. A record of birthday gifts and a small account of his 4th birthday (at a local address) gave me a picture of life back then. Childish drawings showed fighter planes taking out planes emblazoned with the Nazi swastika. In doing some research online, I found out that the boy’s father had been serving in the Navy most of the time the scrapbook was being put together.

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I also have one other local scrapbook that I got as a Christmas present several years ago. These two new finds made me pull it out again. It was put together by a teacher at Madison Heights High School who was also the secretary for the Virginia Education Association. The book includes personal mementos, a church membership card, WWII era newspaper clippings, local political slogans, and funny hand-sketched cartoons.  It also included many items about her students. She included several book reports which had been beautifully illustrated by the same boy. It turns out that the boy became a professional artist and even wrote a book about art (which I, of course, had to get).  Many play bills and programs were also included.

 

100_2864I will probably never be able to fully satisfy my curiosity about these people. However, the wondering makes them more real to me, which I hope honors their memory. It is also a reminder that I will probably not be remembered many generations after my death. I hope my possessions and words that do survive after me reflect the kind of life I want to have. Live life with purpose and know it is only a spiritual legacy that lasts forever.

 

Photos are my own.

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James Monroe’s Highland

President’s Day means a day off from school! In typical teacher fashion, I decided to take an educational day trip. My mom and grandparents took the trip with me to Charlottesville, VA. We started out with a delicious colonial buffet at Michie’s Tavern. They have a very simple menu, but the food is excellent and the atmosphere of the building and even the clothing of the servers sets the stage well for the meal. I had already been to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (and loved it!) so we decided to visit James Monroe’s Highland. He purchased the property to be neighbors with Jefferson. Even though the original home burned down more than a century ago, we were able to tour the guest house furnished mostly using his original furniture.

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The original guest house

Of course, I learned some new things. Monroe is the president who has served in the most public offices. He was the only president other than George Washington to see active military duty during the Revolutionary War and he is pictured right behind Washington in the famous Crossing of the Delaware. He was also the only president other than Washington to run without opposition. He was the U.S. delegate to France at the time of the Louisiana Purchase and was very influential in this transaction.

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Statue originally commissioned by the country of Venezuela

Aside from the historical information I learned, I also enjoyed the grounds very much. The winding road in is flanked with tall ash trees on either side. It creates a lovely old plantation feel. The gardens included some trees that were in existence during Monroe’s residence there. Monroe had raised sheep for their wool and there is a small flock there currently. The sheep (including a lamb in the picture below) were panting in their thick wool coats on this unusually warm February day. On the other side of the property, there were cattle including a bull, several cows, and a few calves.

Later in the afternoon, we took some time to enjoy downtown Charlottesville. I found a charming used book shop called Blue Whale Books that also sold old prints, maps, and music in addition to a good variety of books. I was also thrilled to find Low – Vintage Clothing, Vinyl, and Antiques. I was impressed by the wide variety of vintage clothes (some truly antique as well as a huge selection from the 50 though 80s).

On our way out, I noticed the statue of Robert E. Lee. I have heard it is going to be taken down soon (article here). It makes me sad, though I can understand why Confederate symbols may cause deep hurt to some. Lee was a great man, a true Virginia gentleman. I like this picture with the setting sun behind him.

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Photos are my own.