As a child I was taught that history cannot be changed.
Still a boy but not yet a man, stories of battles and wars were introduced. In time, the child’s teachers would assign a range of homework.
“Children, write a couple of sentences describing what happened at a monument, site or location learned in class and from your assigned readings, or make a diorama of the same asked. Extra credit for students who produce both,” said Mrs. Gage.
Luckily, when I wasn’t feeling groggy I was a good listener. I was able to strongly image whatever it was that my teacher read aloud. And I held a bit of artistic ability.
I couldn’t read. My parents were “off the boat” practicing their broken English onto my siblings and me, with us correcting and furthering our parents’ English as a second language. Parents too busy running a pizzeria to hear, let alone care, about a child’s obligation.
Even though I wanted to impress my teacher I knew that Mrs. Gage would be first to suspect foul play had I gotten my older sister to write words I would dictate to her. The month prior I asked my sister to transcribe my short speech. From there I would take her markings and symbols and trace them onto another piece of paper. However, my sister took it upon herself to deviate from my plan; instead, writing as a 10-year old instead of 7. ( Ugh! Must my sister self promote herself from being my personal secretary to her own CEO.)
What was submitted was traced back as a forgery of some sort.
Francesca, the sister I’m referring to, received a severe warning by her teacher to ignore the pressures of family; two parents and three younger male siblings, parents instructing her to pimp out phoned pizza delivery requests while her brothers nagged her to help with homework assignments.
Feeling too much pressure, Francesca had abandoned me. Worse! Francesca abandoned the family when she traded her sizable set of crayons for a few slender tubes of wood.
Although all of yellow in color, the markings produced were of a predictable grey…(Stupid sticks.)
So, I would opted for making a diorama, naturally. I had to satisfy my teacher’s request and bury the anxiety that comes when you’re not able but expected to know how to read. The aptitude I had built tracing lines and silhouettes no longer passed as writing. Mrs. Gage already caught onto that trick, too.
Before constructing a replica, a scene concerning voyage of pilgrims, I combed high and low, front to end, of that pizzeria. Eventually I would create a thing of beauty, really, spanning three feet at its base and mid waist the pizza counter.
Completed and ready for observation, what would frame a event in time would also depict how I viewed history: fixed, or solid for all time thereafter.
Fast forward to my growing into an adult, wherein words written by a freakin’ awesome Western novelist, a Mr. Gustave Flaubert, which read, “There is no truth. There is only perception,” came a shift of mentality on how I had observed history …Or at least the telling of history.
My view of something past is largely related to my individual experience. Things that have happened and that are happening right this very moment directly influences how I interpret the past.
And so, in this context, perception really is reality.
History was no longer thought as being similar to that completed diorama: fixed or solid. Instead history became similar to that PBS program, the one where an afro wearing hippy is gingerly painting: fluid, or to be continued.
History, to me, is more like witnessing that awesome hippy beat his paintbrush against that easel, the whisper of his voice as he paints “happy little trees.” And that feeling, like tiny tingles running across my neck and head.
I’m hypnotized and practically drooling.