Thursday, July 19, 2012

Story. History.

Tell THIS GUY your story?!
Do I just have a face that begs for total strangers to tell me their life story? It happens to me all the time. A chance encounter, a waitress, a cashier, a passenger in the next seat on a long flight. I know its partly my fault. I’m a little outgoing, I guess.  I start up conversations and don’t hesitate to ask questions. And when people DO tell me their life stories, I love it.

Fort Monroe, dating from 1819
 is surrounded by a protective moat
I had finished a brief tour of the fascinating CasemateMuseum at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.

The history of the place goes back to the earliest years of America and continues right up until 2011 when it was finally decommissioned as an Army base and declared one of our newest National Historic Monuments. It has yet to show the signs of a national park, literally and figuratively. There are vestiges of security gates and army storage facilities. The grounds are still used for YMCA Day Care field trips and Retirement Home picnics.

The Fort itself, the largest stone fort ever built in the United States, sits at the strategic location defending Hampton Roads Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. And buried deep within the thick walls of the fortress, the Casemate Museum has been operational since 1951, and is the sole keeper of the story of the Fort.  And, it is the keeper of her story -- the woman behind the desk of the tiny gift shop/information center. Hardly an excuse for a gift shop, there is barely enough room for one or two customers to browse the dozen or so knick knacks and shelf of history books and maps.

I can’t remember the question I asked her, or even how we got off subject, but the next thing I know, I had heard about  her life long relationship with Fort Monroe; how she grew up in its shadow, went to school nearby, was married behind its walls and how that relationship failed. But, alas, a new one has begun and there is hope for her retirement years, but she’s just not sure how the government will change her benefits if she remarries and what about Medicare  which is looming in the next decade and don’t things always work out in the end if you don’t give up but who do you trust these days and will the children be alright? And the more things change the more they stay the same… and… it’s rather warm out there today to take a walking tour. 

Which it was.

But my abbreviated walking tour in the hot Virginia sun had a more personalized touch as I thought about how history is always a personal story wrapped inside a larger story.
Her story. His story. 
Your story. My story.
Our story.

At the end of the Civil War, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy
was imprisoned in this cell at Fort Monroe

The Fort was nicknamed "Freedom Fort" during the Civil War
because of General Benjamin Butler's decision to allow runaway slaves
refuge behind its walls, coining the phrase 'contraband of war.'

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for encouraging me (without even knowing it) to read. I read to my kids when they were little (they're funny about it now, at 15 and 13!), but never read just for myself. Your posts have inspired me to pick up a book. Guess what? I kind of like it! I've been reading for several weeks now, and i'm on my 3rd book!