Thursday, May 26, 2011

Connections to the past

I don't think I have anything unique in this regard, thing that drew me into history, and the grad program at UC, was the connection I've always felt to the past. I was a late child, born in 1946, to a father that was in very late middle age, at best. He was born in 1889. Yep, you read right. My father was born before the Spanish-American war. His dad was born in 1856, nine years before the Civil War. My grandfather was of an age to remember well the civil war, except he was in Oregon, where it was not a part of day to day life.

I grew up hearing stories of life in Oregon before electricity, cars, and most things we think of as everyday life. Going fishing on the McKenzie River in a wagon pulled by a horse with his brothers, camping where now there are suburbs and malls. The Willamette Valley before there were paved roads, let alone freeways. His stories of the depression, when he and his brothers took to the rails, wandering the US looking for work. He had a game-to-game contract with the St. Louis Browns, and according to his brothers was a hell of a pitcher.

I"ve always felt that through my dad and grandfather, I have memories of life long past. It's given me a life view that hasn't always been helpful to everyday life. I saw the war in Viet Nam as an extension of the policies of containment laid out by George Kennan in 1948, this while on the ground there as a corpsman with the Marines. I had a lot of Marines listen to me and shake their heads in either wonderment or boredom.

I see the drug laws and public attitude with a view of how laudanum was popular in the late 19th century.  I drive over the Willamette Pass past Odell Lake in Oregon, where the old state highway crew barracks were, and hear my dad on the radio talking to the drivers plowing snow, the only way they could communicate. I remember the kids from Brooklyn who came out to Silver Lake, to work for the USFS in the summer of 1963, as part of LBJ's Great Society program, having taken a bus cross-country. First black kids we'd ever seen, and at the time I thought of FDR's CCC program. Neither my buddies or these Brooklyn kids had ever heard of him.

I'm not saying that I have any special knowledge, or any special aptitude, heaven knows. It's just that being seeped in the past, I tend to live there, and see things through that lens.

Link to my dad:


  1. I recall the article in "Foreign Affairs" (I believe it was) signed "X" written by Kennan. Funny how policy comes about. Seven US soldiers just died in Afghanistan. Thanks for serving. Hope you have a good Memorial Day.

    Recalling our father's stories too. Passing it to the next generation. Great.

  2. Yes, it was published in FAQ, interestingly enough, within a couple years Kennan said that it was being misinterpreted, and argued that a consistent diplomatic dialog would serve us better than military containment. He was one of the authors of the Marshall Plan, rebuilding Europe.

    I hope your Memorial Day is well also; my son got back last summer from Afghanistan, his second tour over there. He's out now, which makes me happy.


  3. The older we get, the more the past occupies us and hat makes sense - it becomes an increasingly large percentage of our total life. And I think because of that, we also feel more connected to the stories of family that preceded us.

  4. Mike, you have a sense of personal history that has largely been lost in today's world. Not sure why or when Americans quit telling intimate family history stories to their kids, but it is chaning our sense of culture. I was raised by grandparents and, like you, my life was framed by stories. It amazes me when I talk with my 5 cousins (their Dad was a son of the forementioned grandparents) and they have no sense of personal history (and therefore national or local history) at all.

  5. My family's history is so fractured that even if we do remember an incident, our memories of it frequently don't mesh together.

    I'm glad that you had family that passed along the important stories, Mike. Your Dad sounds like a great fellow.


  6. Hi Mike, how 'bout a post about your creek fishing? I like the way some nice 'bows stay up the tribs as long as flows are good.

  7. I wandered over from The Crow, because I liked your weather better than hers or mine. Then I was arrested by the fact that you had a father born in 1889, yet you are only 8 years older than I... It doesn't seem possible! I think I had better read more.

  8. I know my husband's family history better than I know my own and the reason why is because they are story tellers. When they get together, they tell all the old stories. Every time we get together. All the stories:-) But that's why I remember them and, fortunately, he's a charming story teller. My family lived more in the present, so I don't have a lot of stories to go by, just my own fractured memories.