August 21, 2006 @ 6:59 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff, History
Scott’s birthday present to Rose was a surprise visit home for the weekend. Home! As in HERE! Which is to say: not California! All weekend! Here!
And now it’s Monday, and he has to go back, but let’snotthinkaboutthat.
On Saturday we decided to do some Virginia things we hadn’t gotten around to doing yet. One thing in particular, a place I would have felt really chagrined to leave this area without having visited: Monticello.
Like pretty much everyone I know, I’m awfully fond of Thomas Jefferson. Now, for me, I think the attachment was formed during childhood viewings of the musical 1776. (No WAY. Just now when I looked up the IMDB link for this film, I discovered that Jefferson was played by well-known actor Ken Howard. I had no idea. He was so young! And red-haired!) What I chiefly took away from this film (which must have been on HBO, I watched it so many times) was that Thomas Jefferson was manipulated into writing the Declaration of Independence by a duet-singing John Adams and Ben Franklin; that Tom played the violin (a phrase I can only hear in melody and had to forcibly restrain myself from SINGING during the house tour on Saturday); and that he had a pretty wife who fell for him precisely because of that there violin-playing (which turned out to be a metaphor I totally didn’t get as a kid, fortunately).
The result of all this musical-comedy indoctrination is that I’ve always had in my mind an image of the young Jefferson, not the twinkling yet demanding esteemed-grandfather personage presented to us by our energetic tour guide at Monticello. The Monticello Jefferson (on the family tour, at least) is the doting gentleman who gave his granddaughter Cornelia six gray geese as a present for sending him a letter at the White House, the affectionate scholar who rewarded children with valuable books after they’d managed to read the books in question. Everything about our Monticello tour pointed to Jefferson’s love of education, his fascination with the arts and sciences, his determination to raise articulate and knowledgeable heirs.
There were unsettling incongruities—how can there not be, since this man who spoke out so passionately for liberty as a human right lived on a magnificent estate whose productivity depended on the labor of slaves—but the children’s tour did not delve into these. The slaves’ contribution was acknowledged matter-of-factly, at the beginning of the tour. (Tour Guide: "And how was all this beauty made possible? Who made it possible for Thomas Jefferson to live here in comfort?" Beanie: "GOD!" Tour Guide: "Um, well, yes, but…")
For the most part, though, the tour focused on the architectural details of the house and on Jefferson’s passion for learning. The kids were enchanted by the museum of Native American artifacts collected by Lewis and Clark (local heroes in these parts) and displayed by Jefferson in the entryway of his home. There’s a famous clock there, too, which Jane had read all about in some book or other and shared some interesting facts with the crowd, much to the tour guide’s amusement. (Tour guide: "You’ve certainly done YOUR homework!" Jane, blankly: "Homework?")
Some of the books on the shelves are Jefferson’s own copies: a Don Quixote in four volumes; many texts in Latin. I admit to some goose bumps as I peered through the protective glass to read the titles. I thought of little Cornelia standing on tiptoe to see the names inscribed on the leather covers of her grandpa’s books, wondering which of them she might one day earn for herself.
I could say a lot more, but we’ve got Scott for just a few more hours and I am ditching this computer posthaste. Instead of trying to be, you know, articulate and stuff, I’ll just leave you with some links on Thomas Jefferson education.
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