Last year, I had an interview with a very nice woman at the New York Historical Society for a job. When I applied for that one, I wrote in my cover letter that I really loved Williamsburg, Virginia and often dragged my friends to battle reenactments.
When the lady called me for the interview, she said that she really loved my sense of humor in my cover letter (I get a lot of compliments on my cover letters. I should teach a seminar!)...to which I almost replied, "Who's being funny? I really DO love battle reenactments and Williamsburg, Virginia!" (My dad and I used to go to the Battle of Monmouth reenactment. They would, magically, always pick the hottest weekend of the summer for that one.)
It sounded like a fun job...included making MySpace profiles for historical figures. (I told my friend about it later on, and she said, "So, if I get a Friend Request from Betsy Ross it means you got the job???")
(I didn't get the job. But I DO love the New York Historical Society now.)
In fact, I love history.
Or do I, really?
At that interview, the lady asked me, "So, you're a big history buff?"
To which I resplied, "Why, yes, I am!"
But...I don't think I really AM. I loved the American Girl dolls and books when I was a kid. I still watch Little House reruns. And, my gosh, Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation books are PURE HEAVEN. I enjoy the History Channel, and I always did well in history class in school. (I think my photographic memory has something to do with that.)
However, I don't think I'm really and truly into history...but more so, the fact that people existed years ago, just as people exist now...and while so many things have changed, the things that truly matter never will. Emotions and relationships and feelings of people that lived two hundred years ago aren't so different from my own.
When I was a kid (around 11 or 12), my family and I went to an antique shop one Saturday afternoon.
My favorite purchase of the day?
A really big, framed portrait of a soldier.
A completely random soldier.
I am honestly not sure which war this soldier was from...just a black-and-white portrait of a handsome, clean-cut young man in a soldier's uniform.
I hung it on my bedroom wall. It stayed there for years. My friend Raquel would come over and ask me to turn it around because it freaked her out.
It didn't freak ME out though...I loved my unknown soldier. I loved thinking that he was a REAL person...he lived a life! He had a childhood! He had hopes and fears and dreams! He was loved by his family and friends!
And I wondered if he survived the war, and how this big framed photo ended up in an antique shop. And perhaps he was even still alive!
(Maybe I should scan the picture and try to find the guy's family on Craigslist. Hmmm...)
I remember in the 9th grade, when we learned about World War I. A boy in my class was protesting the grade he got on an essay test, and he argued with Mr.Overton, "BUT I MENTIONED SOPHIE!"
Ah, yes, Sophie. The wife of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, who was murdered along with her husband and triggered World War I.
Truthfully, that is really the only thing I remember about 9th grade history. One day, my mother, sister and I started talking about that...and my mom said, "Isn't it funny that we all remember Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophie?"
I am sure a true history buff would be able to tell you all about that war. I can't.
Recently, I found a book I had read and loved a few years ago...War Letters by Andrew Carroll and brought it along to reread on the train.
This book covers wars from the Civil to the first Persian Gulf War. I absolutely ate that book up. This isn't a history book...this is a human interest book. My favorite letters, of course, are the World War II ones...I have always been absolutely in love with the 1940's and felt like I was born about fifty years too late.
The letters that move me the most are the ones that go back-and-forth between a young husband and wife...only to be told by italicized words at the very end "Mitch was killed before Sue received this letters..."
It's things like that which truly humanize war for me. When 9/11 happened, I remember completely connecting with a girl on The Today Show...she was a few years older than I was...and her boyfriend and brother were both working in the World Trade Center that day and neither had been found yet. I remember, "What's the difference between myself or my friends and that girl?"
All of these soldiers and "victims"...they were human beings with lives before all of that. And, like my soldier on the wall, was a REAL person and lived a life...and had a childhood...and had hopes and fears and dreams...and was loved by their family and friends.
I might book a trip to Williamsburg Virginia soon.