A sense of history, I learned a few days ago, is relative to the individual who’s feeling it.
Allow me to set the stage. I have personally just entered my 70th year, which is really hard to believe. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was attending college, starting my first job, honeymooning in Japan, standing at my wife’s side as our youngest daughter was born.
Personally, I would define “history” as any activity that took place sometime before I reached my cognitive years. That would be at about the age of six, though I have mental glimpses of events back to the age of two. Six was when the people who surrounded me, the places I went, and the activities I experienced began to have an impact on my life. From my point of view, anything since then is classified “current events”. As I look back over the years (though time has figuratively flown), my experiences in life are part of who I am – and, therefore, NOT history.
Recently, however, I learned a lesson in history from my 10 year old grandson. From the age of three, this young man has shown a particular interest in anything that is big, mechanical and engaged in some form of activity on a plot of land. For the last couple of years we have been visiting construction sites to watch the goings-on. It’s our special time. Self-labeled “Sidewalk Supervisors” we begin our tour with a donut and chocolate milk from a nearby Dunkin Donuts or Horton’s. Proceeding directly to the project site that offers the largest and most active construction equipment, we savor each delicious bite and sip as we watch the workers and their fantastic equipment.
Now, there’s one particular site we’ve been visiting for a year and a half. We’ve seen excavators dig out cellars. We’ve watched graders form paths that are now streets between housing clusters and specialized machinery form the edges that are now curbs for those streets. We have followed loaders as they distributed top soil to front lawns that are now green and decorated with flowering gardens. During this time frame we climbed a mountain formed by the excavation of the basements, chased a ten foot snake (or was it ten inches?) and ate our donuts on the front doorstep of skeleton frameworks that are now occupied homes. When we first found the site, there were only 6 houses partially framed up. Now there are probably 30, fully built and mostly occupied.
On this particular day – a few days ago – we were on the way home from several other important inspections and decided to slip in for a quick check on the contractor’s progress. It was, after all, one of our favorite sites. As we drove in it was apparent that the job was nearing completion.
“Grandpa,” my grandson said with a note of dismay, “they’re almost done.” He looked around at the homes, the streets, the few unfinished parcels. “We’ve been coming here for a long time. Today we’ll just have to reminisce. Remember when . . .” – and he began to list a variety of visits, the work we had witnessed and the fun we had experienced. Finally, his list complete, he paused and, hands on his hips, exclaimed, “Ah, the good times!”
History, it seems, is sometimes relative to the eye of the beholder. For my grandson, there is nothing more satisfying than watching an excavator move a mountain of dirt – nothing better than the blast of a dump truck’s air horn in response to his raised and pulsing hand and arm. For him, the best history is the story told by loaders and excavators and lots and lots of dump trucks.