I developed a sense of history when I was in middle school. Two activities had profound impact on my future life. A few of us in our two room school had a special assignment - to research a history of our hamlet, Porter Corners, and publish a newsletter of our findings. The second event was a reading work of fiction. I read the historical romance novel Désirée, by Annemarie Selinko. Because the characters were from real history, I started right then and there to keep a journal. I imagined it to be for the benefit of the future historians who would be writing about me.
About thirty years later I threw away all of my journals. I have not regretted this. I don’t want future historians to know how I obsessed about the same issues over and over. I don’t think a journal of emotional leakage is an accurate primary resource for an epoch.
Later another book, Naked Angels: The Lives and Literature of the Beat Generation by John Tytell, gave me the impetus to drop out of college. During those “hippy” years, I thought that I would live a wild life like Neal Cassidy and write about it like Jack Kerouac. In a few years I accumulated a collection of adventure stories. I was a member of the turbulent decade, an active player in the sixties.
But as the era passed, I was too embarrassed to describe my risky behavior. I would rather my children and grandchildren not know how irresponsible I was. Perhaps the adventures were more entertaining in the doing than in the telling.
I did write poetry during this time and had a nice little typewritten collection. I was flattered when my husband showed them around college and his English professor read one to a class to analyze. Unfortunately my husband gave my little book to someone and didn’t try to get it back after we divorced. I do not have those poems memorized but bits of them come to mind now and then.
Another era is transient history.
I went back to college in my late twenties and majored in history. We had to do a lot of writing as history majors, and I’m proud of the papers that I did. I focused on intellectual history, so I was exposed to very good writing in my studies. Durkheim, Marx, Weber, Edwards, - heady intellectuals and I was proud to know them.
But after college, my vocation was teaching elementary school, and Durkheim and the rest quickly faded in my comprehension. I was busy finding fresh ways to present remedial number facts to third graders.
I did quite a bit of writing directly related to teaching.
Under a National Science Foundation grant, I wrote a series of babysitter guides complete with read-aloud stories for girls to use to teach young children science. Actually the idea was that the babysitter learns more than the child as she is teaching. That project went directly to a file cabinet that is in the vaults of the Smithsonian.
I also wrote two units for the Baltimore City STARS Science Curriculum. That passed with the next new administration.
I also wrote a few booklets for Cooperative Extension in connection with a project called 4-H Adventure in Science. I wrote a nice summer curriculum on Science Careers, and a booklet for family outings related to science. I was involved until the USDA grant ran out.
Another NSF grant covered the writing of teacher manuals to accompany the Maryland Science Center’s Beyond Numbers math exhibit. I also wrote scripts for demonstrators on the stage and on the museum floor. These were published and distributed during the life of the exhibit. After my Smithonian experience, I wised up. I was able to save the work on my website. It lives in cyberspace.
It may be that the best enduring work I have done is to transcribe oral narratives. My grandmother and father live on print. When my father had lost much of his memory, I read aloud to him the memoirs he wrote of his grandmother. He laughed out loud as he exclaimed, “This stuff is good”.
I have learned from him that, try as much as we try to accumulate, much of our historical memory is ephemera.