Monday, September 9, 2013

Time travel and good conversations

I've told you guys before how much I love Naper Settlement. Following up on what I said in the earlier post about volunteering there again, I had my first training session yesterday in the 1800s schoolhouse. Sadly I didn't get to volunteer in costume—instead I observed a professional re-enactor, who gave me ideas and advice for showing visitors around and "teaching" the junior volunteers.

On my way up to the schoolhouse, I was glad to see the fort is looking good. Last time I was here, it was blocked off for repairs. Apparently the faux cannonballs from the annual Civil War battle did some damage to the outside? Who would've thought.

I looked nostalgically at the Murray House, the first house I ever worked in. Supposedly Stephen Douglas slept here once on a visit to town—always a fun fact to tell visitors. This house didn't used to get a lot of visitors when I worked there, so most days I would bring my knitting, a book, or my rosary and pass the hours in quiet peace. It was so pleasant, working or praying alone in the stillness. I miss those times. (Lillian, do you feel the same way?)

But yesterday, most of my day was spent in the schoolhouse. As much as I love all the Settlement buildings, from the log cabin to the blacksmith shop, the Schoolhouse will always be my favorite.

I was fortunate yesterday to be paired with a great re-enactor to learn from. He is a sweet older gentleman named Ernie, who enjoyed a successful career in business before retiring to re-enact full-time. He considers himself a professional historian, and his love for educating young people about the past is remarkable.

My mom and I spent the afternoon in the Schoolhouse, talking to Ernie and watching him give tours and "teach" the junior volunteers.

Ernie with his class
(Apologies for such a blurry photo—I blurred it on purpose to make the people unidentifiable, since I didn't ask their permission to post it here.)

I learned so much yesterday from our conversations with Ernie. The man has a true passion for history and his excitement about it was contagious.

"Do you keep a journal?" he asked me at one point. "Sort of," I said, thinking of this blog.

"You should," he said. "You never know how useful it could be. Maybe someday a future historian will be looking for artifacts from our era, and your journal will be the only thing he can find."

"Very early in my business career, a businessman I greatly respected told me to keep a journal," Ernie went on. "He told me that a life worth living is a life worth recording."

I stopped and asked him to repeat that—I was so blown away. Here it is again, for you:

A life worth living is a life worth recording. 

What a line. I couldn't stop thinking about those words. Isn't there so much truth in that line—so much for us bloggers, recorders of the little things, to unpack? I resolved to make that my blog's motto.

Although he is a professional re-enactor, Ernie made a lot of light-hearted jokes about the job. "Re-enactors are really just imaginative kids who loved pretending they lived in a different era," he said, "and they don't want to stop even though they're grown up." I had to agree with him, although I like to think of re-enacting as a form of time travel. Few things give me a better perspective on my own life than spending a few hours immersing myself in a different time period.

He also talked about the strict rules that were enforced for children in the 1800s. This list of rules on the blackboard always causes a lot of amusement amongst the families who come to visit:

Those rules seem uncommonly strict, don't they? I mean, how many ways do they need to tell kids to be quiet, for cryin' out loud? I'll admit I used to think that people were just a lot harder on kids back in the day. But Ernie put it all in perspective and changed my mind.

"What does Rule 10 mean?" he would ask everyone who came in. Most people said, "Kids should be quiet," or "Kids should do what they're told."

"No," Ernie would say, "That's Rule 7, or Rule 1. Rule 10 means, 'Children must not interrupt the work of adults, either by their words or their actions.'"

Then he went on to explain, "The kids who came to this school were farm children, and farming is one of the most dangerous occupations—then and now. On top of that, people in those days weren't working for their next vacation—they were working for survival. These rules, and especially Rule 10, were a necessary measure to ensure the survival of the whole family."

I couldn't stop thinking about that either. What a difference these rules make when seen in the context of a community that was working, above all, for survival.

So as you can see, it was a very interesting and enriching afternoon. Of course, my favorite part was getting to hang out with this cute little pioneer lady:

I can't tell you what a joy it is having little siblings who are so much younger than me. I feel like I get to relive my childhood through them. Angela in particular likes to brag to everyone that she is my "mini-Theresa," and she glows with pride whenever someone says she looks like Lillian or me. Once she even asked me, "Theresa, do you think it's possible for triplets to be born 14 years apart?" I had to gently break the news to her that, no, she isn't technically our triplet. But I told her we could pretend she is all the same.

I had many more adventures this weekend, including a most unusual day trip on Saturday, and my first outdoor concert this summer (hurray for not being a stuffy old married woman!). ;) I will be posting about all of those things soon.

Thank you for reading, and I hope your week is off to a great start!


  1. I like this post!! Lots of thought-provoking-ness. Your new motto is super cool, as well. It touches the writer in me... and makes me feel a wee bit guilty that I haven't kept a steady journal since my freshman year. Ooops!!

    God bless you! ♥

  2. I really love that quote! As a history major, this sounds like a really amazing volunteer experience!