Sometimes people ask me when my love of history began. I really can’t say there was a single, definable moment that it started, but as we’re approaching one of my favorite holidays of the year (4th of July), I thought it would fun to take a one week break from historical posts and share an incident or two prompting my exploration of the past.
4th of July Books
My mom is an amazing home-maker and teacher. She loves to decorate by season – hearts and bears for Valentine’s, birds and flowers for spring, Americana for summer, glorious autumn leaves, pumpkins, and pilgrims in the fall, and of course Christmas. When my siblings and I were little, she used her special décor to teach us about the seasons and holidays. Great fun!
Books have always been important to my family. Mom and Dad read to us…picture books when we were little, classic children’s stories and historical fiction novels when we were older. I remember one of the exciting things going hand in hand with Mom’s seasonal decorations was the picture book basket. Stories about baby animals for spring, the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving, the first Christmas in December.
One summer when I was about five, the patriotic décor was out, and I suddenly realized we had no books. (For those of you who know my family really well, you might be shocked to know that at one time we had no history books on the children’s shelves! Now, we can’t find room for all of them…) I went to my mom and sweetly pointed out this problem, “Mom, we need some 4th of July books. We don’t have any!”
Mom acknowledge the fact and later loaded us kids into the car and we made a trip to our local bookstore. There, in the back of the store – I can still picture it – high up on the top shelf, she found a book about the history of the American flag and a beautifully illustrated version of Paul Revere’s Ride. We purchased the books…and thus began our American history book collection and my curiosity.
“The British Are Coming!”
Paul Revere’s Ride became one of my favorite books. (I still love the poetry, even though I’ve detected a few historical errors – another topic for another day!)
I loved to role play when I was kid, and Paul Revere had lit my imagination. There was a map in the front of the picture book, showing the route of the patriot’s ride and I helped my mom use sidewalk chalk to copy the map onto our driveway. Then I got my stick horse and waited across “Boston Harbor” for the two lights in the Old North Church (usually my mom pausing in her yard work to hold up both her hands with imaginary lanterns.) Then I was off, riding along the “country roads” on the driveway and warning every neighbor in the vicinity that “the British are coming.” Like Longfellow’s Revere, I never did get captured and, of course, I was the hero of the night!
4th of July Parade
One of our family traditions is to host a kid’s parade on 4th of July. It’s a chance for children to dress up, beat drums made of oatmeal cartons, carry flags and banners, dress their dolls in patriotic clothes, decorate wagons, etc. etc. etc. It’s usually followed by more fun and games and a neighborhood BBQ.
Well, the year when I was inspired by Paul Revere, that’s who I wanted to be in the parade. So mom and I made a costume – a heroic blue cap (made from one of Dad’s old shirts) and a tri-corn hat (made by safety pinning the sides of the regular hat into the correct shape). And off I went on my beautiful stick horse to warn the citizens and newspaper men that the “British were coming!”
As I grew older, I learned the real history of Paul Revere’s famous ride. And you’ll be pleased to know I learned it’s much more fun to dress-up in a gorgeous Colonial dress as Martha Washington, a Regency gown as Dolley Madison, a Civil War dress as a Southern lady, or an army green jacket as a WWII army nurse.
I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to explore American history. The hands-on learning and great books swept me into an adventure of learning and educating which has, of course, morphed and changed as I’ve grown older.
Looking back, I know that the experience of learning about famous Americans and role-playing their adventures has shaped my belief that history is the study of real people making a difference in their community, state, and nation. An ideal that has become my motto as a historian.
I’m so blessed to be a patriotic American citizen. I’m so blessed to have the opportunities to study and share our amazing history. I pray that many will be inspired to stand up and make a difference in our nation today, remembering the American heritage of righteousness.
P.S. Do you have a favorite 4th of July memory?