Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Whose History Is It?

The older I get, the faster time seems to go by. Maybe it’s because we have so much still to do and feel like we have little time left to do it. Whatever it is, I don’t particularly like it. Where are the lazy, hazy days of summer I enjoyed as a youth?

One reason I enjoy writing historical is that I can go back in time to a simpler place and have my characters live their lives at much less frantic pace. The problem is that now my own childhood is being considered for historical. When did that happen?

As a child during WWII, I vividly remember the newsreels and magazine pictures in Look, The Saturday Evening Post, and Newsweek. Uncles and older cousins went off to foreign countries to fight a war that seemed to go on forever. I was five when the war began and nine when it ended, but the memories are very vivid. So now, when I pick up a story set between 1941 and 1945, it doesn’t seem like history to me.

Even with a war going on across the ocean, children in America still had carefree days filled with activities that children today have no concept about. Mention Jacks, Hopscotch, Hide and Seek, Red Rover, Simon Says, Tag, Stickball, Dodge Ball, or Kick the Can to a nine or ten year old today and they look at you with a “huh” expression. They stay in their air-conditioned homes to play Wii, Play Station, Atari, games on the IPad, or texting friends on their phones. They have no idea what a double-feature is at the movies or about serials with cliff-hangers every week.

Back then, the days were endless, and we wanted to hurry and grow up so we could do adult things. We spent little time at home because we were outside playing with friends. Mother called us home for supper when the sun was headed downward in the west, and we called it a day.

Now as I look back at the nineteenth century and what they didn’t have in the way of modern conveniences, I wonder what they’re going to read and think about the twentieth century in another thirty-five years or so. What do we have today that will be obsolete? What will the historical writers of tomorrow write about the history we have lived? What will they have that we have no idea could exist. When I said I would have liked to have lived in the late nineteenth century, someone asked, “But wouldn’t you miss all the conveniences of today?” My reply, “How could I miss something I didn’t know would exist in the future?”

Writing history and getting it right is work, but it is fun. Will they get it right in the future when they write about us?

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