I just today finished a very pleasant interview with a Bacon County historian. As we talked of genealogy, traveling to famous places, and passing plants along to other people, I thought again of the interconnectedness of generations. When I was younger, I never thought much about history in a personal way. I always liked to read about it, but then I’ll read almost anything, including the cereal box. Now that I’ve aged a bit, I see the past in a different light.
My Uncle Solomon Nichols was quite a historian and thought everyone else should be, too. Not so. My father never cared much for it, even as he grew older. At family reunions Uncle Sol, the oldest brother, was always ensconced in his folding metal chair with like-minded folk gathered around to talk away a few hours about past generations. Daddy, the youngest, always chose the other side of the building. He preferred to talk about the present, maybe crack a joke or two, and catch up with relatives he hadn’t seen in a while. Many are the times Aunt Stell would say to Uncle Sol, “Now, Sol, Luther’s heard that story a million times. He doesn’t want to hear it again.”
Funny. I wish he were here to tell me those stories one more time. I didn’t listen very well back then. I would now.
Daddy did tell me many of the family stories. He especially liked the stories about his mother, my grandmother. An outspoken lady, she said what she thought when she thought it. Once she was sitting on the ground by her mailbox planting petunias. A local politician stopped and asked her to vote for him.
“Now what did you say your name is?” she asked him, shading her eyes with a dirty hand.
“Tom Evans,” he replied.
“Why, no, Mr. Evans,” she replied, “I’ll not vote for you after the way you ran off and left your wife for that other woman. And I’ll be politicking against you in this community. You’re wasting your time and mine asking for my vote.”
Daddy had a lot of her blood flowing in his veins. One night when I was in my 30s, I was visiting with him one afternoon and complaining about low teacher salaries and my high bills.
“What are you complaining about?” Daddy asked me. “Your grandpa taught school for $20 a month.”
“Daddy, you never told me Grandpa was a teacher,” I exclaimed.
“Well, you never asked me. And all those bills you’re fussing about, who made them?” Daddy asked.
“I did,” I replied.
“Well, pay them,” he said, changing the subject. “Have you read this new book? I saved it for you and cut all the crosswords puzzles out of the paper for you, too. Don’t forget them when you leave.”
Now that I think about it, I have a pretty generous dollop of Nichols blood in my veins, too, a fact that pleases me more with every passing year. I like to feel connected to past generations of my family, but also to past generations in general.
The first time I stood on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, I felt a sense of being connected to history. So many feet had trod those steps. Napoleon crowned himself there while the world gathered to watch. Throughout the centuries, untold thousands stood in that very spot and waited to worship. I felt very much a part of history as I stood inside lighting a candle and praying. As I surveyed the famous rose window, I not only felt close to God but to my fellowman as well.
All my life I’ve heard people say that education is wasted on the young. Maybe that’s true. We don’t care about our history, and by the time we start to care, the ones who could educate us are gone.
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