Our family vacation in the summer of 1990 was a road trip from southeast Michigan, through Ohio and Pennsylvania, to Boston, with a quick stop at the Statue of Liberty.
What a whirlwind! I never really thought about it until I had kids of my own, but that was a pretty ambitious road trip, considering my brother and I were 5 and 8, respectively, at the time. Google Maps, which of course was long from its existence, tells me that it’s a one-way trip of nearly 14.5 hours.
I have a few specific memories from this trip, though not many because I was so young. I remember stopping in eastern Pennsylvania to meet my brand new pen pal and her family. (We still keep in touch…isn’t that amazing?) The next day, we made it to the Statue of Liberty after some really nerve-wracking driving in Manhattan. (I’m sure my dad could tell you a lot more about that, but I do remember him rolling down the window and asking directions from someone in the next car. I feel like this was a fairly big risk in 1990!) And in Massachusetts, I remember seeing the USS Constitution
and visiting the school that inspired the song, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Those were some of the highlights, but as is typical for something that long ago, I think most of my “memories” actually came from looking at the photos for many years following.
But there is one memory—one very specific moment—that has not left my mind in nearly 30 years. In downtown Boston, we visited the Paul Revere House. And the single moment I remember from that tour is standing in an upstairs bedroom, where the window coverings were all drawn and it was very dim. As a museum professional now, I understand the need to block UV rays for the sake of preservation, but at the time, the darkness created a feeling of quiet and reverence.
I was looking at a bedside table filled with artifacts, and I recall being amazed that THOSE WERE THE THINGS people used more than two hundred years ago. I was fascinated not only by their foreignness to me, but also by the idea that someone like Paul Revere MIGHT HAVE TOUCHED THOSE VERY THINGS. And though I could not now tell you what THOSE THINGS were, this was the moment that history became one of my true loves.
Even now, despite working in the field, I am not a “museum person.” But put me in a historic house (or a boat, if we want to talk about the novel I am currently working on), where I can see the way people lived and the items they used (the fancy term for this is
“material culture”), where I can be in a place that people lived and loved and laughed and cried and hoped and lost…then I am all in. Sometimes, when I am standing in a place like that, I can FEEL EVERYTHING. It either leaves a lasting impression, as that table in the Paul Revere House did in 1990, or it births an entire story and setting and fully-realized characters, just as it did when I walked off the Col. James M. Schoonmaker at the National Museum of the Great Lakes in October of 2018.
I bet that a visit to the Paul Revere House has evolved in the past 30 years, and when I get back to Boston, you can believe that will be on my list of places to go. I can’t wait to see how it’s different, or maybe even how it’s the same. I love visiting sites like this and taking a risk, every time, of walking away changed.