Born 100 Years Too Late

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A
fellow teacher is of the opinion that I was born 100 years too
late and the more I have considered that suggestion, the more
it seems to ring true. Actually, the remark opened a window
through which I could see why I have gone through my life feeling
like I was missing…something; feeling offended by…something;
always searching for…something. I believe that I have been missing
the Past with its higher standards of decency, morals, values,
classical educations, close family ties, lives spent closer
to the earth. Modern culture and modern life offend me in so
many ways.

One
only need look about my home, or notice the way we raise and
educate our child, to see that the past means a great deal to
me. I probably developed these values from close companionship
with my paternal grandparents; from stories my father told;
from time I spent in the one-roomed schoolhouse. Every room
of my home holds memories of these things. The oil painting
of our ‘Century Farm’ hangs over the piano. Grandmother’s sewing
machine holds the ‘antique’ radio (with CD, cassette and record
players hidden inside.) Grandfather’s massive wardrobe owns
a corner of the living room and serves well as a closet in this
140-year-old farm cottage built, as most in that era, without
closets. Other than the soft living room furniture, and my computer
desk, chair and equipment, the house is furnished in antiques
from ….oh, about 100 years ago.

Antiques
of every size have come from relatives or been discovered during
family trips to antique shops. Always I seek items that point
back to the past and serve to comfort me. Our son has become
a person in search of treasures from the past, as well. When
he was small, he loved antique locks and put together an impressive
collection, paid for with birthday and chore money. David views
‘old things saved’ (a phrase from the wonderful book, Song
and Dance Man, (1992)
by Karen Ackerman, Stephen Gammel,
illustrator) with as much awe as I do. Now David has grown larger,
as have his tastes, and so a John Deere B tractor sits in the
yard, and people find our house by looking for the antique John
Deere mowing machine and plows. (David’s dream is to become
a mechanical design engineer for John Deere, which surprises
no one.)

As
I look through our multitude of books, I am again reminded of
my longing for the past and I am relieved that David has developed
the same hunger for times gone by. His attitudes developed during
the time spent with my father; then were reinforced by the books
that we read aloud when he was young; later reread silently
by David. I believe that it is very important to teach children
about the past, not only in official history classes, but also
by telling and reading stories
of family life
during eras that families view as specifically
admirable and meaningful.

By
equipping our children with a better understanding of what was,
we prepare them to spot, assess and reject aspects of modern
life which prove to be upsetting and harmful. We want to empower
our children to wisely choose their own paths in life. I worry
very little about my son’s choice of friends, clothing, music,
and behavior. He has developed strength of character; built
upon his interpretation of what his grandparents and great-grandparents
would think of modern times, and what they would wish him to
become. Using their values and lifestyles as a measuring stick,
David rejects the low aspects of our current culture. He is
rooted in the past; connected to the values of those who have
gone before; and I am glad.

Our
numerous bookshelves are loaded, but our very favorite books
are those written by Laura
Ingalls Wilder.
Not only have her books been read many
times, and the values discussed at length, but family vacations
have been spent visiting many of Laura’s homes. To be in those
homes; to touch the things that belonged to Laura and Pa and
Ma, is to reach back in time in order that we may consider,
evaluate, and share their value system.

We have been to the Little
House in the Big Woods
and also took time to visit Caddie
Woodlawn’s
home, which is near there. We have been to
the sod dugout On
the Banks of Plum Creek
. We have visited the surveyors’
house from By
the Shores of Silver Lake
. We have spent time in DeSmet,
South Dakota, visiting the places described in The
Long Winter
,
Little Town on the Prairie
, These
Happy Golden Years
. We have been out to the claim
where Laura and Almanzo spent The
First Four Years
. We have twice traveled to Mansfield,
Missouri, to visit the home that Laura and Almanzo built; where
Laura did her writing. We have grieved at the gravesides of
those much admired persons.

There
are hundreds of children’s books available to assist parents
in connecting their children to the values and family life of
more moral, and more Constitutional, times in America. There
are books that touch every aspect of life and living. I have
time to mention but a few that can assist those seeking ways
to teach children the real American heritage: love of freedom;
love of family; joy of childhood; love of learning; pride in
an honorable America.

One
of my very favorite children’s books is Roxaboxen,
written in 1991 by Alice McLerran and illustrated by Barbara
Cooney. It claimed a firm spot in our hearts because of the
stories I had told my son about “our” huge rock at grandfather’s
farm. The rock ‘belonged’ to our group of cousins and was large
enough for each of us to find a seat, pretend that it were a
castle, and live remarkable lives there. Roxaboxen,
based on a true story, confirms that children can effectively
use their imaginations to create towns (or in my case, castles)
where memories are born, to be retained and cherished long into
adulthood.

The years
went by, and the seasons changed,
until
at last the friends had all grown tall,
and
one by one, they moved away
to
other houses, to other towns.
So
you might think that was the end of Roxaboxen –
but
oh, no.

Because
none of them ever forgot Roxaboxen.
Not
one of them ever forgot.
Years
later, Marion’s children listened to stories of that place
And
fell asleep dreaming dreams of Roxaboxen.

~ From Roxaboxen
by Alice McLerran

I
would tell my son stories of my life in the one-roomed schoolhouse
with Mrs. Beaudry and he knows his Great-Aunt Mildred, who taught
for 50 years. When we read My
Great-Aunt Arizona (1992
) by Gloria Houston;
illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb, David was better able to picture
the schooling experiences of the past.

For fifty-seven
years
my
great-aunt Arizona hugged her students

She
taught them words
and
numbers,
and
about the faraway places
they
would visit someday.
“Have
you been there?”
the
students asked.
“Only
in my mind,”
she
answered.
But someday
you will go.”

She
never did go
to
the faraway places
she
taught us about.
But
my great-aunt Arizona
travels
with me
and
with those of us
whose
lives she touched…
She
goes with us …
in
our minds.

~ from My
Great-Aunt Arizona
by Gloria Houston

I
told my son of our large family gatherings and we read, The
Relatives Came
by Cynthia Rylant. He could picture a
crowded house; makeshift beds; a home filled with strange breathing.
I told my son of the wonderful Christmas pageants we put on
at church each year, and reinforced the lesson with the beautifully
illustrated, The
Christmas Pageant (1989)
by Jacqueline Rogers. We enjoyed
The
Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1972)
by Barbara Robinson.
Even yet, when we notice badly behaving families, we think “The
Herdmans!”

I
explained how my grandmother and her family had moved to Michigan
by covered wagon, and how grandfather’s family had sent him
to ride in a boxcar, tending the horse, cow, and larger pieces
of furniture, as the family followed in a covered wagon. In
addition to the Wilder books, we read Sarah,
Plain and Tall (1985)
by Patricia MacLachlan as we discussed
the pioneer spirit. Now that David is older, we are reading
the works of Willa Cather (My
Antonia
and Oh
Pioneers!
).

We
discussed my grandfather’s self-reliance in caring for his family,
and of the family working hard, and together, in order to make
ends meet; to store enough food for animals and humans. We reinforced
those lessons with fine books like Ox-Cart
Man (1979)
by Donald Hall with pictures by Barbara Cooney,
and Blueberries
for Sal
by Robert McCloskey. (Even though Sal wasn’t
of much help to her mother and they “drove home with food to
can for next winter – a whole pail of blueberries and
three more besides.”)

We
discussed the wonder of animals, and the respect and care that
must be given to animals, especially those that work for us;
for those that will be sacrificed that we might eat; for those
that are ill and in need of care. We read the wonderful books
written by veterinarian James Herriot, (Only
One Woof
, The
Market Square Dog
, the All
Creatures Great and Small
series.) We cried with Rob,
and empathized with his entire family in A
Day No Pigs Would Die (1972)
by Robert Newton Peck.
David learned the importance of being responsible with guns,
and understood that one must never shoot animals ‘just for fun’
when he read One-Eyed
Cat (1984)
by Paula Fox. In Owl
Moon (1987)
by Jane Yolen, we breathlessly crept through
the woods, hoping to see the owl.

We
worried if anyone would adopt that plain brown dog in Who
Wants Arthur? (1984)
by Amanda Graham with pictures
by Donna Gynell. When David was nine years old, I took him to
Australia to visit friends. We had rented a car and were driving
through the areas west of the Blue Mountains. Stopping in a
small town to rest, we noticed a library across the street,
and went in to investigate. The first book we saw was a well-worn
copy of Who
Wants Arthur?
It was like running into an old friend, and
we felt as though we were home, again!

My
father told my son many stories about growing up without electricity
and with hardships, but he also described the favorite part
of each day. His mother would gather the family around the kitchen
table and read aloud, by the light of the kerosene lamp, until
bedtime. Dad said that Grandmother would always stop reading
at an exciting spot, thereby leaving the listeners ‘hanging.’
She would send them off to bed with their imaginations alive,
anticipating the next evening’s reading when the story would
continue. I borrowed grandmother’s idea, and while my father
was still alive, he would come for supper then stay to listen
as I read his old and dearest favorites, Kazan,
and Baree,
Son of Kazan
, by Michigan author, James Oliver
Curwood. We all found those stories of early Canada so enticing,
that I then read the marvelous book, Incident
at Hawk’s Hill (1987)
, and its sequel, Return
to Hawk’s Hill
, by Allen Eckert.

David
learned to love fantasy instead of television by reading books
like Amazing
Grace (1991)
by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch when
he was small; later by reading and rereading the Redwall
books by Brian Jacques and The
Chronicles of Narnia
series by C.S. Lewis. David
learned to care about people whose lives differed from ours
by reading In
the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (1984)
by Bette
Bao Lord; Julie
of the Wolves (1972)
by Jean Craighead George; The
Rough-Face Girl (1992)
by Rafe Martin and David Shannon,
The
Sign of the Beaver (1984)
by Elizabeth George Speare.

David
learned history by reading books like, My
Brother Sam Is Dead (1974)
by Collier and Collier; the
“…If You” series of books: …If
You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon
, …If
You Lived With the Sioux Indians
, and other historical
books for children. He learned of life around America in days
past, by reading the wonderful books by Lois Lenski –
Strawberry
Girl
, Prairie
School
, Indian
Captive
, and more. Now he is studying history
and economics with the Whatever
Happened to Penny Candy?
– “Uncle Eric” –
series of books written by Richard J. Maybury.

For
the opportunity to observe and be offended by injustice, I had
David read Roll
of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1977)
by Mildred D. Taylor.
To better understand life as we now see it, and to gain insights
in how to handle these confusing years, he read the fine book,
Rules
of the Road (1998)
by Joan Bauer. Jenna, an awkward
sixteen year old who has watched her family break apart because
of her father’s drinking problem, muses, as she drives her boss
through the Midwest towards a stockholder’s meeting in Texas:

It seemed
to me that the people who made the rules ofthe road had figured
out everything that would help a person drive safely right
down to having a sign that tells you you’re passing through
a place where deer cross.Somebody should stick up some signs
on the highway oflife.

CAUTION:
JERKS CROSSING
Blinking yellow lights when you’re about to do somethingstupid.Stop
signs in front of people who could hurt you.Green light shining
when you’re doing the right thing.It would make the whole
experience easier.Life was too hard sometimes…

We made
it to St. Louis by nightfall – drove past theGateway
Arch…The arch represented the gateway to the west where the
pioneers began their journey to the new land…Seeing it made
me feel like I’d just done something important. I thought
of all those pioneer teenagers pushingwestward in the covered
wagons – hot, sweaty, wonderingwhat the new land would
bring, trying to convince their parents to letthem drive.

~
From Rules
of the Road
by Joan Bauer

Children’s
literature so often contains wisdom and lessons for guiding
the experiences of children. Parents need only be discriminating
in choosing which books will teach the lessons important to
individual families, and there are lessons to be found in books
from all eras. My wishes were that my son understand and ‘feel’
America when it was good; when it was more in-line with how
the Founding Fathers envisioned it to be. It was with an eye
to that end, that I read and chose the books for my son to read.
I did not need an arbitrary date; neither did I need any list
from any teacher. To search, one needs only a focus and a belief
system.

When
I am asked to read to a group of children, I usually take the
book, Home
Place (1990)
by Crescent Dragonwagon, illustrated by
Jerry Pinkney. The book accomplishes the near impossible by
taking the reader to an overgrown homestead, then introducing
the reader to the history and reality of prior residents of
the home which no longer exists. By letting the former residents
speak from the past to share their lives and values, the reader
can reach into the past and share a time of… maybe about 100
years ago…

Listen.
Can you listen, back, far back?
No,
not the wind, that’s now. But listen,
Back,
and hear:
a
man’s voice, scratchy-sweet, singing “Amazing Grace,”
a
rocking chair squeaking, creaking on a porch,
the
bubbling hot fat in a black skillet, the chicken frying,
and
“Tommy! Get in here this minute! If I have to call you one more
time – !”
and
“Ah, me it’s hot,” and “Reckon it’ll storm?”
“I
don’t know, I sure hope, we sure could use it,”
and
“Supper! Supper tiiiiime!”

~
from Home
Place
, by Crescent Dragonwagon

A
gift of the past, to the children of the present, who will become
the adults of tomorrow. For the sake of America, we need to
now teach the lessons, which then
held families together. If we do not do this soon, more children
will grow up feeling that they, too, are always missing…100
or so years of…something.

July
21, 2003

Linda Schrock Taylor [send
her mail
] lives in Michigan.
She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,”
where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and
efficiently.

Linda
Schrock Taylor Archives

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