Fighting the battle for love of history

At age 6, I slid into a Confederate trench and nestled belly-down, imagining myself in the thick of battle. I was exactly where my father wanted me to be: a century before now, firmly in the grip of history. This is where I stayed. Throughout my childhood, our family dipped its toes in the river of history whenever we could.

Two years of living in Georgia meant pilgrimages to Indian burial mounds and Civil War sites. Meanwhile, the rush of history-in-the-making - the Civil Rights struggle - left its indelible mark on us.

Eight years in Washington meant weekends at Gettysburg and years of replaying those three unforgettable days.

For my father, the Civil War is never really over. He has a lifetime's worth of knowledge left to learn, and an unquenchable thirst to see and know more. For me, that first taste of living history - snuggled securely in some long-abandoned trench - was just the beginning of a lifetime of loving the past.

At times I resisted the tug of history, feigning indifference in my adolescence. But the lure of curiosity proved undeniable. Soon, I was jumping from country to country and from era to era in my quest to know more. These history jags left me with deep pockets of knowledge and, yes, an insatiable curiosity like my father's.

Now my dad and I laugh about my long answers to the short questions posed by my own daughters - answers that he jokes cost him a fortune in tuition dollars. And we share another goal: to transfer our zest for the past to two more little girls, my 7- and 9-year-olds.

This has proved easy with my older daughter, accustomed as she is to traipsing about musty old houses and living-history museums. She's imaginative and creative, easily transporting herself to another time and place. Now it is she who asks to visit this or that historic site, and it is she who is currently campaigning for her grandfather to take her to Gettysburg, having read three books about it already.

My younger child presents a challenge for all three of us.

"This is boring!" she used to hiss in one museum or another, "Can we go now?!"

Her sister and I, desperate to buy time, took to pointing out little tidbits we thought would interest her. Thus, Carolyn became the only 5-year-old who could discourse intelligently on the subject of 18th-century bathrooms and other titillating subjects.

Now that she is more sophisticated, we bribe her with animals. "Carolyn?" her sister enticed her recently, "don't you want to go to Philipsburg Manor" - another living-history museum - "and see their cat?"

That did it. We were off. Fortunately, the animals keep multiplying, thus increasing the efficacy of these little bribes.

Of course, this approach hamstrings us to a certain extent: There are no farm animals roaming the battlefield at Gettysburg, for example. Kristie and I must keep casting about for other ideas.

Maybe for Carolyn it will be a Civil War trench. Or perhaps a cooperative cat will take up residence at Gettysburg. But in the meantime, I always have Dad to serve as our reinforcement.

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