One of the things I've always contemplated doing with this blog is to sort of write out my career in the history business. This will serve at least two purposes: first, it will be very retrospective for me; and it will also give some of you blog readers out there a little better idea of how I got to where I am today. I don't know how many posts this will take, nor how many days/weeks/months it will take me to get around to finishing this little "project." Check back for updates as I can put them down. So with that introduction, here's Part One.
I've been interested in history for as long as I can remember. I grew up listening to story records about Andrew Jackson, Daniel Boone, and Davy Crockett. My school classes regularly took trips to various historic sites around the area, and we took family trips during the summer as well. Though I was born in NC, I spent 10 years of my childhood in southwestern PA. Some of the sites I remember visiting as a kid include Fort Ligonier, Old Bedford Village, and of course Gettysburg.
My interest in history ran deeper and was fostered much more than by simply visiting these and other historic sites. My maternal grandparents, and aunt and uncle were all very involved with the local historical association, now the Somerset County Historical Center. The second weekend of September each year they all helped out with the annual Mountain Craft Days festival. So, as soon as I was old enough, I was enrolled in the Junior Historian program. We had monthly meetings where we learned about the area's history from various museum staff members. We also were taught historical activities such as wool carding, using a drop spindle, etc. Each of us had to carve our own wooden spoon (I still have mine, and let me tell you it's pretty crude). We were also trained to give tours of the farmstead to visitors, and had to do a certain number of volunteer hours as tour guides. Each of us was supposed to dress in "pseudo costume," meaning that the boys wore 18th century shirts with jeans and work boots, while the girls wore frontier style dresses. My grandmother made my shirt, which I also still have. I call it my first ever bit of reenacting gear. During Mountain Craft Days we were all "apprenticed" to one of the craftsmen. On winter days, when it wasn't busy with tours I spent a lot of time in the museum's research library, reading about my family history (as you can imagine, the place was a big genealogy center).
At about the same time, I had my first great Social Studies teacher. It was 4th grade at Shanksville-Stonycreek School, K-12 all in one big building. His name was Fred Cotchen, and he was just a cool guy. I loved his Social Studies class, which was more geography than anything else, as I recall. His brother-in-law was none other than Jeff Hostetler (of NY Giants Super Bowl fame), who at the time was a college QB. He came to visit our class and us 10 year old boys were star-struck. By the way, if you lived in that part of PA you were likely either a Penn State fan or West Virginia fan. People loved the Steelers, but there weren't too many University of Pittsburgh fans around. I'm not sure what it was about Mr. Cotchen's class, but he made me want to be a Social Studies teacher. I held onto that notion well through middle school and high school, and at least partially into my college career before changing my mind.
Two years later, my family moved back to eastern NC and so this makes a good stopping point for now. I left a whole world filled with history behind, not sure what there would be to take it's place. All I knew of Jacksonville and Onslow County was Camp Lejeune and the beach because when we had come down on vacations that's where we spent all our time. It would take me years to find the rich history that surrounded me.