When I was very little, our house was in the middle of nowhere and I had no friends. I watched a lot of TV as a result. All my knowledge of the world came through the tube, and while I recognized that not everything on it was real – for instance, I knew I Dream of Jeanie and Star Trek weren’t real, and I knew what a movie was – my grasp of the concept wasn’t much greater than that.
We lived in Cocoa Beach, my dad worked at Kennedy Space Center, which was on the news every night, and in a lot of TV shows, such as Star Trek, Mission Impossible and the affore-mentioned I Dream of Jeanie. Prior to that we lived out west, in Montana, where there were lots of actual cowboys running around doing cowboy things. And there was no shortage of westerns on TV.
So when I was four or five my dad suggested that we take a vacation to England. I immediately began bawling my eyes out, screaming ‘no’. He asked me why, and I said, “Because Henry the Eighth will cut my head off.”
[Quick, “What have you been telling him” glance at my mom]
My dad explained that the British didn’t do that anymore. Henry had died a long time ago, and he only killed his wives anyway, so in any event, even if they did still do it, I’d be safe. I remember snuffling as my tears receded. “Really?”
In the end, we settled for Canada. Again.
The fun part of the story, though, is that while I knew some stuff on TV was fake and some wasn’t, I thought it was all right now. I thought space ships were from my area – which they were – and I thought that Cowboys were still out west – which they were – but I thought the Dust Bowl was still going on, and I thought Henry the 8th was still coming up with alternatives to alimony in London, and that it was perpetually World War II in Europe and perpetually the American Revolution in wherever the American Revolution took place (I was a little vague on that. Remember: I was maybe only barely five). I thought that the Indian Wars continued and that Chicago was perpetually 1920s mobs fighting the feds, and that the Roman Empire was still around. I thought everything was now.
In short, I thought the world was a much more interesting place than it really was. Discovering that those events took place generations or centuries apart.
Because of my youthful misunderstandings, I think history was “Alive” to me, and as a result I’ve always seen it as fascinating, not just some dry ‘why do I need to know this?’ stuff you only learned for the test. It was real to me. It was now.
Ehhhh….maybe not. I’ve been telling myself this story for 30 years, but actually writing it out, the idea that a misunderstanding I had when I was 4 or 5 would somehow shape my entire life is kind of silly. I mean how many things from when you were four still affected you when you were, say, 22?
Adorable story, though. Probably not true, but still adorable.