I spent much of my childhood and adolescence going to national parks and museums and historical sites. I lived in places like Virginia that were an easy drive to these sites.
I went with school groups--even in places that seemed less historic, I remember going to statehouses and standing on the star that marked where some more famous person stood. For example, in Montgomery, Alabama, we were told that we were standing on the spot where Jefferson Davis swore his allegiance to the Confederacy, and I don't remember much in the way of moralizing about whether or not that was good or bad.
Now I look back and think about how close we stood to a different history, the church where Martin Luther King got his start.
I went to all these sites with school groups and church groups and Girl Scout troops. I remember a Scout trip to Moundsville, Alabama, a Native American site, where we looked at artifacts and didn't discuss whether or not it was disrespectful to look at a burial site this way.
Yesterday, my parents and I went to Yorktown, the site of the battle and siege that won the Revolutionary War for the country that would become the United States of America. In the last decade, there's been a beautiful new museum created, with a variety of short films and artifacts, both the ones behind glass and the ones that were out for us to touch. There were uniforms that we could try on and take pictures. There was an amazing gift shop, which seems to be required for these sites.
I loved the various exhibits. I was surprised to realize that I gravitated to the theatres that showed the short films. My brain wandered a bit as I skimmed the text that came with plexiglass cases of artifacts.
I loved rediscovering the history that I knew once, along with information that I never learned. As I made my way through the exhibits, I thought about all those names and how wonderful they might be if I needed them for a certain work of fiction.
It was bitterly cold (although not the midwestern kind of cold), so we left a large part of the Yorktown site unexplored. The map showed all sorts of outdoor learning areas, but we would leave those for a warmer day.
Because it was a cold Thursday in January, only a few other folks were at the site, which was a different kind of treat. And then we drove back, down the Colonial Parkway, which has seen all sorts of history. But yesterday, all we saw was one other car, a river with some icy patches, and five deer.
It's good to remember that our current political situation may seem grim, but it's not nearly as desperate as we may think. We may be headed down that road, true, but we have some time and some maneuvers left to us.
It was also good to be reminded of the enormous risks that those colonists took--and to be reminded of the principals which they thought were worth those risks. Those principals are still so important, those inalienable rights still so essential.