A Better Way to Study (and teach) History: Part 3

Our daughter, Kasey, with a veteran who just passed away. He went to our church, and had become a good friend.


Living History

George was an elderly man when I knew him. Being a World War II veteran, he had some interesting stories to tell. George had been an Army mechanic in the war and a big part of his work for a while was in preparing jeeps, tanks and other vehicles to run under water.

That’s right, I said run underwater; you see, George was stationed in England when the Allies were preparing for the D-Day invasion of France. It was feared that some of the landing craft carrying vehicles might get stopped far enough from the beach that the water would be higher than the vehicles. So they had to be made able to run under water.

I thought George might be kidding the first time I heard this, but it’s true. They ran a plastic pipe up from the carburetor to a float for access to oxygen. They waterproofed all the electrical connections with a goop that George described as similar to Silly Putty. And if a vehicle came off a landing boat and found the water too deep, it could still run as long as its plastic air pipe stayed above the surface and didn’t get water into it.

That was the kind of story my kids would love to hear and I made a mental note to invite George and Tab up to our house for supper so we could all quiz him about that and his other interesting life experiences.

And brother, did George have some. Being the age he was, that meant he had lived through the Great Depression. He remembered the bread lines, the shortages, the master craftsmen who could not find work for years on end. He carried vivid memories of segregation with its whites-only water fountains and lunch counters. George remembered living on the farm and drawing water from the well and trips to the outhouse in all kinds of weather.

And there was more. George’s father had been a veteran of the Spanish-American War. So George had heard his dad’s stories too. Stories from before the days of automobiles and telephones. Stories of Teddy Roosevelt and the charge up San Juan Hill. Yes, it wouldn’t do to let George off without getting him to tell all that living history to my kids.

Believe it or not, it gets better yet. George’s daddy used to take him along when he went to his Spanish-American War veterans’ meetings in the old Jones Memorial Library building on Rivermont Avenue. There, one evening each month, little Georgie got to meet the men with whom his father had shared the horrors and adventures of war. And he heard more stories. Stories that my children could hear, and in hearing, bridge the gap of a century.

But—drum-roll, please—there is still more. You see, on the same evening of the month that the Spanish-American War veterans met, there was another veterans’ association meeting in another room of the old library. They were the Confederate veterans. I can hear your amazed gasps. Yes, most definitely I would be guilty of child neglect if I failed to get George up to my house to wring generations’ worth of stories out of him—and make sure there was a video recorder handy for sure.

And I failed to do it. I kept meaning to. But there were all the pressures of business and ministry and family and I kept not getting around to it. And George died.

There is an old African proverb that says: When an old person dies, a library is lost. So it was with my friend George. He is gone, oh so very gone and my kids never got to hear his stories. I only got to hear a few. He has been gone for several years and I’m still kicking myself.

Don’t be like me. Every day that you procrastinate, another library somewhere near you is lost. Put down the textbooks and worksheets and turn off the video course for a day or two and get your kids the blessing of talking to living history. Find some elderly people and beg them to open the library. Most elderly folks are bored, lonely and feel unimportant. The interest of you and your children in their memories will bless them as well as you.


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