Friday, March 5, 2010

James and Me

Alan and I greatly enjoyed our sixteen years living in Orlando, Florida.  Without question, the jobs we held, the homes in which we lived, and the awesome people we still call friends will always be with us.  But there was also a woeful lack of seasons and an over-aggressive mosquito population.  Add to that a summer heat that made you sweat, as Dad would put it, "like a whore in church!"  The good always out-weighed the bad, however, and I soon learned to accept my adopted state's shortcomings.

But I confess, there's one aspect of Orlando I never quite learned to love: it's complete lack of history.  If you asked any native octogenarian about Orlando's past, chances are the reply would be, "This all used to be orange groves, as FAR as the eye could see!" Unlike historical Key West or St. Augustine, Orlando didn't have much of anything until Uncle Walt showed up in the early 1960's and made it the world's favorite tourist destination.

So imagine what it was like to move from the orange grove history of Orlando to that of the city of York, in Pennsylvania, one of America's original thirteen colonies. Talk about HISTORY!!  York is the city to which the signers of the Declaration of Independence fled once the British overtook Philadelphia.  It was here that the Continental Congress met and established the articles of the Confederation.  You can still walk through the historical courthouse today and view the tables, chairs, quill pens and state flags set up exactly as it appeared during those historic days.  It's really quite something.

From the moment Alan and I arrived here, we couldn't get enough of visiting Pennsylvania's rich past.  We toured every museum and  colonial village in downtown York, and spent our weekends checking out nearby Gettysburg and Valley Forge.  With every tour, every glimpse into our nation's storied past, those old orange groves gently faded away behind us.  We were officially hooked!!

So, with my new "History Geek" status firmly in place, I responded to an ad in the paper requesting volunteers for the York Heritage Trust Library. The ad stated the Trust was in need of "data entry" type help, and I jumped at the chance to go "behind the scenes," immersed in shelf after shelf of hundred year old books, documents, maps, and letters.  I learned the Trust is also a place where people come to research families and trace genealogies.  They have a record of the epitaph of every grave marker in every cemetery and church yard in the entire Southern/Central PA area.  It's really quite staggering!  If you were born here, even if you lived for only a few hours, the Trust has a documented history of you.  You count.  I like that!!

My job the first day was alphabetizing some of these cemetery records. Even that was fascinating:

Sneider, Theodore.
March 26, 1782 -- November 16, 1782.
Aged: 8 months.
Cause of Death:  Diphtheria.

Crazy!

But the next day, my boss came to me hugging a folder.  "Ready for some fun?"  she asked. Then she revealed her treasure:  letters.  Written by James Smith, Irish Immigrant, Lawyer, Pennsylvania Representative, Signer of the Declaration of Independence!!!  IN MY HANDS!!!  She needed me to transpose the letters into the data base in the library's computer.

Many of the letters were lawyer business, stolen cows and wrongfully accused disturbers of the peace.  But then came the letters to his wife back in Lancaster.  He talks a little about war, saying things like, "we should be able to take back New York from the British by week's end," among other unimaginable things.  Then there's the light stuff.  Here's an excerpt that James penned to Elinor on August 15, 1776, just one month after the Declaration of Independence had been signed:

"I have got a touch of rheumatism in my shoulder by sleeping with my windows open. Mr. Adams [this is JOHN ADAMS he's referring to, people!!] says I very well deserve it, for being so careless.  I told him as Mr. Duchee prays for us every day, I thought there was no need to take care of ourselves.  He told me God helps them who help themselves.  Mr. Hancock [John FREAKING Hancock!  You know, "big signature guy!!"] is a better doctor, as he has something of ye gout himself and has promised me some pine buds to make tea."

Is it just me, or is it not just COMPLETELY cool that here, buried beneath piles and piles of historical documents, our forefathers reminisced about their ailments and shared PINE BUD TEA recipes, for crying out loud??!!  Take THAT, orange groves!!

There are so many things that go through my head as I work this amazing gig.  One is how proud I am of the York Heritage Trust and the amazing people who have devoted their entire careers to preserving not just the history of York's rock stars like James Smith, but EVERY citizen therein. It also forces me to realize once again how intensely tenacious our forefathers were in their determination to establish and preserve this country of ours.

My hours spent with James Smith make me want to be a better person. He makes me want to be someone who stands up for what she believes and strives to make things better, no matter what the odds.   I guess that's the beauty of history.  It warns us of the mistakes it's made, and inspires us to mimic their success.

Who knows, maybe someday, many hundreds of years in the future, someone will be typing MY words into a data base at York Heritage Trust, preserving my (historical!) writing for all time.  Someone will approach the new volunteer, hugging a thick manilla envelope.  They'll place it gently on the desk in front of her and ask, "Have you ever heard of a blog called, 'Anything Fits A Naked Man?'"

Thanks for Reading!!

63 comments:

We live in a Zoo! said...

The thing that blows me away about history, is how people saved all of those letters. And then how much of history we are able to piece together with those letters. Crazy!

Matthew said...

Never say never.... after all, from small acorns grow mighty oak trees (and other cliches)!

Bill said...

Fascinating!

I hope you can keep us posted on your discoveries.

Chell... said...

LOL! "Take THAT, orange groves!!"

What a fascinating thing to have your hands in on!

Wonderful post!

***Amy*** said...

What a cool volunteer job! All that history blows my mind too, living in Australia, history to us is mostly based on which tree people stood under to make massive decisions :P

Eva Gallant said...

Wow! What an amazing opportunity to "mingle with our forefathers!" I would be in awe!

Teresa Evangeline said...

This is way too cool. Girlfriend (George Carlin said white chicks should never call each other girlfriend, but this definitely requires a 'girlfriend'), I am almost sick with jealousy. I Love your volunteer job and I Love this post. Everything about it.

Kakka said...

That is amazing, what a fantastic place to volunteer. I have been doing my family history, on and off for a number of years and how I would love to have found old letters (anything really) from that far back. I will have to visit if I ever get to America. Thanks so much for sharing. xxx

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

What a rockin' volunteer job!! I always hated history until I was out of school - weird isn't it? I have lived in a lot of states around our country and each time we'd move we would immerse ourselves in it's history by touring, reading, and exploring. Then when we got family and/or friends from out of town we could be the best tour guides. Where I grew up on Lake Erie it has such history of battles with the British and the underground railroad and Native American's. So I can't imagine living in Orlando and only growing up knowing orange groves and Disney.

Keep us posted on all the cool things you find.

bratts29 said...

Sounds so fabulous. I love history and learning about what our country is made from!
Great article.

Stopping by from FF!
Lisa (Bratts29) Double Shot of Espresso

Stephanie said...

That was just amazing. I love history and would love to do something like that when I retire from teaching (part-time, of course).

I found you on Friday Follow and now am following so I can find out more about what you learn from that Trust Library. Sounds fascinating.

Darlene said...

What a fascinating job you have!!! It sounds like an amazing place to live and how neat to visit all of the historical places.♥

lifeshighway said...

Exactly how will people follow our history, when we write with emails, and texts and twitters? I do not have a drawer of lovingly collected emails with a ribbon tied around it for future grandchildren to find.

joeandbridge said...

Good Morning! Happy Friday Follow! I am your newest follower. Come visit me :) and have a great weekend!

Bridgette Groschen
The Groschen Goblins
http://www.groschengoblins.com

Everyday Goddess said...

What a cool job! You are so right about being in awe of their more personal, human, writings. You could put together an entirely new blog about the day to day happenings of the founding fathers! Just a thought ~ xo Elise

Writing Without Periods! said...

How interesting. I love history...the personal kind. I could read bios and auto bios all day.
Mary

ReformingGeek said...

Wow! You really are a history geek. One of these days I need to visit York.

Nice post!

Bossy Betty said...

Have you read "The Wordy Shipmates" or an of Sarah Vowell's other books about history? You might like them!

Thanks for a fun post!

Nicole Bouchard Boles said...

Following you back! Happy Friday Follow :)http://www.everydayphilanthropistblog.com

MeganRebekah said...

OMG I'm so jealous of a town with rich history. I live in Ocala, FL and we so have some history (mostly Indians and some early settlers) but nothing compared to the colonies. And you're right, Orlando and the surrounding areas were all farms and orange fields!

Mercy said...

Sounds like the kind of job I'd love.

Meg said...

I left you something on my blog :-)

http://thewayiseeit-megs.blogspot.com/2010/03/really-me-thank-you.html

Red Shoes said...

What a great story!! Isn't that great?? My Dad's sister was doing a great deal of genealogy once upon a time... and discovered that we are direct descendants of Jean Laffitte...the pirate of New Orleans... I thought that was cool as Hell...Aunt Winnie didn't think so...

~shoes~

The Warrior in ME said...

Haha! I'm so sure that'll happen- THIS, by the way, is so very cool. I totally like it when you say, "you count"! :)

Loving Wife, Working Mom said...

I LOVE IT!!!!!

RN Mama said...

As always, a great story! However you had me at sweating "like a whore in church." Your Dad has the best sayings!

blueviolet said...

You know, I didn't really realize Orlando was a history blank! No fair! PA really does have a cool history and how awesome that you got to see those letters!

50centlove said...

I was perusing the Friday Follow list and had to click on your blog for the title alone! Cute! I'm following you now.

christy rose said...

Oh my "sweating like a whore in church?" I almost could not read on, I was so lost in the visual! LOL

Alyssa said...

Yeah, York, Pa. I'm a native of Phila (suburban) and love the history of the city. Following you now from Friday Follow.

Ellen said...

Wow, that's pretty amazing. I know for sure I'd find a way to accidentally set those papers on fire or destroy them in some way—I couldn't deal with the pressure of handling something so important!

http://www.firednfabulous.blogspot.com/

Looking for Blue Sky said...

Wonderful snippets from history - would love some more please

Just Me said...

Oh, I love history! How fun to live somewhere so rich in it. =)

Cop Mama said...

Following you back! Nice to meet you :-)

Rebecca D said...

Thanks for stopping by... I'm following you back.

[Rhiannon][Wretchdz] said...

One thing I love about your country is the extensive history it has.

In my country, our history only goes back a few hundred years. NOTHING!

LUCKY!!! I would do anything to explore your country again and read its brilliant and interesting history.

Erika said...

Wow. Best. Volunteer Opportunity. Ever.

Found you via "The Way I See It" and I am following.

Julie said...

Are you kidding me??? You're living my dream! I'm such a historian at heart--even majored in it in college...I am passionately in love with Colonial American history--lucky, LUCKY you!!! I can't even believe being handed a folder like that--history--right there in your hands!

Never let this job go, my friend--enjoy every second!

Thanks for your kind visit tonight! Hope your weekend is fabulous!

Elle said...

Wow--what an amazing opportunity! I would be completely in awe of holding a piece of history like that in my own hands. I love history--especially the personal stories and the little details of people's lives. How cool!

Shan said...

Very cool. I'm tempted to show this post to my husband, but I'm afraid he'd die of jealousy and I really do need him. :+)

Kiera said...

haha! You just made that so awesome!

I'd have to admit, I'm a little like, huh> history? but you just made that seem so dammn interesting- maybe i'll take (another) trip to gettysburg.

kim Clayton said...

Awesome blog! I lived in St. Augustine a while and I became fascinated by its history. Now back in my hometown in TN I am still fascinated by its history. Meriwether Lewis is buried here. He was from the Lewis and Clark expedition. Anyway keep up the great writing.
Kim

Debbie(single;complicated) said...

great post! I live in Fl..near Orlando:) ..I can so understand the draw of being in a place that you can live and breathe the history!!!!

Allison said...

That's such a cool job. I am teaching my students about the american revolution and declaration of independence right now, so it's all very relevant to me right now.

Sweet Tea said...

That was great, kinda makes me want to stop typing and salute the Flag!

Kelly L said...

I am a very jealous reader - I love American History - I walked the Freedom trail several times in a couple days when I was visiting the East coast - would love to spend more time/live... WOW..

Love to you and your new awesome job! If that's what you can call it..lol

Kelly

Icy BC said...

Great post, and I'm Following you back from FF..

Betty Manousos:cutand-dry.blogspot.com said...

Sounds like a job I'd absolutely love. I love this post. Fascinatinfg!
Have a great weekend!
Betty xx

Michelle Faith said...

Thanks for the follow, following you back!

Have a great weekend

JenJen said...

I love that Germany has so much history.....but wish it wasn't so freakin morbid, man. There has been way too much blood spilt on this soil.

Heatherlyn said...

That's amazing. How wonderful to be surrounded by inspired people, even if they no longer walk the earth. Sometimes the only thing we leave behind are the words we've written. These words are still very much alive to those who read them. I love historical places. It's wonderful that you realize what a treasure you have and that you are exploring and enjoying it and even becoming part of it!

Velvet Over Steel said...

How incredibly Awesome! You will be that Famous, no doubt! Totally reminds us of the importance of our actions and the life time of the written word. You just inspired me to be all that I can be, that's for sure. Oh and thank you so much the very kind comment/words :-) that you left on my blog! It means a lot, esp. from a writer like you!! Hugs, Coreen

Rachel said...

That is just simply amazing. Truly amazing.
To have history in your hands and read with your own eyes... just WOW.

I'm sure when he wrote those letters, he had no idea what our country would be like these years later - and no idea that people would find his letters home to be so astonishingly fascinating.

Just WOW again! Keep us posted, this is too good to miss out on!

Green-Eyed Momster said...

I love history. Your posts are so awesome!

Hugs!!

Angie's Ad Lib said...

Love History!! That is so cool that you get to type in these documents into the database. Lucky you!

Thanks for sharing some of the details. It really makes them come alive, doesn't it!

I think someday you may just be remembered yourself! :)

TechnoBabe said...

This is really interesting and very well written. What an adventure for you to be able to read all the wonderful documents as well as for you to be helping organize them for all the future generations. Like you say, they save everything there and each citizen matters. Love it.

Mare said...

I was reading Sylvia's blog, and I have to say that the name of your blog made me laugh. So I clicked on it, and much enjoyed your adventures into the country's history. I think our forefathers are spinning in their graves with the way things have been skewed in government. But enough about that. Enjoyed your post.

Momma Fargo said...

Awesome post! I am so envious of you new job. I would also find those things fascinating as did you. Thanks for sharing a piece of history! And you never know...when things are all computerized and we read off the net only...you might land on someone's desk...straight from the archives...

Kat said...

As usual, this is a great post! I tagged you in my post today. Come and see!

http://2010-year-of-miracles.blogspot.com

Midday Escapades said...

That is super cool. I bet you will be famous one day soon!

GregoryJ said...

Your enthusiasm is thrilling.
Emotion grabbing.
I envy you that job.
Thank you.

Leeuna said...

What a wonderful and amazing post. I loved it. Imagine, those letters, written by the very hands that helped shape our nation! That is so-oo awesome. I love history and I am so envious. And yes, your blog will be a historical treasure someday. I'm sure of it.

Getting My Words Out said...

I think I just realized why I've always HATED history--it's been taught to me in such an impersonal way. THIS is history I could sit and study for hours. What a cool volunteer gig you've got going on. Keep those stories coming!
:D

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