When we were raising our children in New England, we made frequent trips back to the early 17th century (Plymouth Plantation) and the 19th (Sturbridge Village.) We even made it to the 18th a time or two when we visited our niece who put herself through William and Mary while working as a costumed interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.
So when our daughter Amber visited us just before Christmas this year, we took advantage of a snowy Saturday morning to visit to one of the treasures of DuPage County: Kline Creek Farm, a living history farm dating to the 1890s that is just minutes away in West Chicago.
Amber, Mom Wallem and I arrived just as the first farmhouse tour of the day was scheduled to begin, and a friendly volunteer offered to lock up the gift shop and run us up to the house in a golf cart. OK, so that part wasn’t exactly period, but courtesy is welcome whatever century you find yourself in. Wayne offered a cheerful commentary on the history of the farm as we rattled over Kline Creek to the farmstead and waved to the helpers who passed us in a horse-drawn sleigh.
“They’re getting the team ready for the biggest job they’ll have this winter,” he explained, “cutting blocks of ice from the pond to store in the icehouse. We’ll have ice for storage until August!”
Inside the house, another volunteer dressed in the homespun layers of a 19th century farm wife took us through the restored farmhouse, pointing out the original cook stove, the dining room set with period oyster plates for dinner guests, and the parlor complete with a candle-tipped evergreen Christmas tree – a tradition that didn’t catch on in the United States until after Queen Victoria introduced it in Great Britain.
As we moved through the rooms, Mom and I enjoyed comparing farm life in the 1890s so what we experienced sixty years later. We had a lot more conveniences, but Mom and Dad worked just as hard as their 19th century forebears. And Amber and I discussed a movie she had recently seen, Midnight in Paris, in which the protagonist longs to live in the past. After he is mysteriously transported to Paris in the 1920s, though, he discovers that the writers and artists he meets yearn to live in an earlier era themselves.
So it got me to wondering. Yearning for a seemingly simpler time in history is not unusual. Many of us of a certain age wax wistful about earlier decades when life didn’t move at the breakneck speed it does now. Living history farms such as Kline Creek teach us about the past, but they don’t instruct us how to live in the present. We have to learn that for ourselves.
And here’s the funny thing…we are all “living history.” The choices you and I make every day affect far more people than we realize. Our own families, yes, but also those with whom we share an office, a neighborhood or a church pew.
I wrote a series of theology papers this fall for my OT class based on the book of Ruth, an ordinary woman who became part of the lineage of King David and ultimately Jesus Christ. As I studied Ruth’s life, I was challenged by her example. Whose ancestor might I be one day? What legacy will I leave? How can I “outlive my life” to be a blessing to future generations?
It’s a big question I’m pondering as another year ends. I am living history; you are, too. This coming Sunday, a new chapter begins in each of our biographies. Let’s make it a real page-turner!