The Elucidating Grannies
On June 12, 2021, my sister Liz and I launched the inaugural journey of the Elucidating Grannies. Joining us were my nine-year-old granddaughter Eva and my sister’s two oldest grandchildren, Aydan, age 11, and Abby, age 10.
Our destination: The Historic Triangle at Williamsburg, Virginia.
Our goal: to take our progeny on a time travelling adventure in which they explore colonial and revolutionary era American history.
Our mission: Through travel experiences, we will help our grandchildren learn history and social issues through the soles of their feet and the connections they make with their hearts.
Becoming the Elucidating Grannies
Taking on the role of expanding our grandkids’ minds was a natural evolution for Liz and I. We both have three children. When our kids were young, and money was lean, my sister and I took our collective clan on summer camping adventures with a distinct historical and sometimes literary bent.
Liz and I grew up devouring the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. When we became mothers, we read them out loud to our kids. So our first adventure in the late 1990s was on the trail of Pa Ingalls’ “itchy foot.” We traveled from the banks of Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, Minnesota to De Smet, South Dakota.
In the last few years, there has been a growing criticism of the Little House books because of their negative portrayal of Native people. I recall reading these books to my kids and while I loved Laura’s spunk and the Ingalls’ family dynamics and adventures, on occasion I was pulled up short by Ma and Pa’s racist statements. So I used these moments to talk to my kids about the prejudices that existed in the late 19th century and those that still exist today, and the impact of discriminatory policies on Native Americans.
On our trip, Liz and I supplemented the Ingalls family story with the history of Native people and places. We hiked the Badlands and visited the Crazy Horse Monument and Museum. On a steamy July day, we parked beside the historical marker on the Pine Ridge Reservation that commemorates the 1890 massacre of hundreds of Lakota people by a U.S. Calvary regiment. I read aloud excerpts from Dee Brown’s book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Today, Native American scholars are challenging Brown’s interpretation of the past and putting the focus on Indian self-determination rather than victim-hood. But this trip was in 1998, and Brown’s words moved us.
Let me clarify. Brown’s words moved Liz and I and our two oldest children, Nicole and Emily. In truth, the younger four kids probably did not hear a word of the book. They could not concentrate because of the sweat rolling into their ears. On that trip we drove Liz’s used Dodge Astro Van. The air conditioning barely worked so we used it sparingly. I read sections of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee with emotion and passion, my voice growing louder and louder to override the kids’ squeals, “It’s so hot in here,” and Liz’s bellows “Be quiet and listen!” Opening young minds is not easy, but it’s important.
Other places we traveled
Another year, Liz and I took our kids to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the 140th anniversary of the turning point battle of the Civil War. As we stood on Little Round Top, I read accounts of the Union’s defense of that hill. The heroism and sacrifice moved me to tears, as did my mortification as a man standing nearby had to yell at my son and my nephew to be more respectful as they tried to jump on every rock on Little Round Top.
At Arlington National Cemetery, we stood in a rainstorm to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Thankfully, all six children watched respectfully and without complaint. Then the rain stopped and our normally rambunctious children were appropriately somber as they viewed the Vietnam and Korean War memorials.
Closer to our Wisconsin homes, we visited the Milton House Museum. This is one of the only documented sites on the Underground Railroad with a real underground tunnel. There we learned about the Goodrich family and the role they played in aiding enslaved people in their quest for freedom. Still, the kids kept it real. My nephew Mitch had a bad case of Lyme’s disease, but refused to take his medicine. He vomited all over the camper and our sleeping bags.
Exposing young minds to the past is not always easy.
On one of our trips, we were camping in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Everyone was in bed and asleep by the time the sun set. The next morning as we packed up camp, the park ranger came by and complimented Liz and I on our well-behaved children. He called us “Mothers of the Year.” Little did the man know that the reason our kids went to bed so early was because all the flashlight batteries were dead and neither Liz nor I could get the campfire to stay lit.
Despite the occasional hiccup, we kept taking our kids to historic places. We knew that our children needed to know how to interpret the past in order to understand the present. History matters.
When our children became teenagers, jobs, sports, and friends competed for their time. When Liz and I had time to travel, which was not often, we did so sans children. Then before long, the grandbabies began to come. Only one for me, but six in rapid succession for my sister.
Find the Stories in History
Part and parcel of being a grandma is telling stories. My granddaughter Eva has an insatiable appetite for tales. When my imagination runs dry, I turn to history. These stories helped fuel Eva’s love of the past. She jumped from obsession to obsession. Egyptian mummies gave way to the Roman Empire, followed by “Mr. Lincoln, the president who got shot in the head.” But since the musical Hamilton became available on streaming services, Eva wants to learn anything and everything about the American Revolution.
As we hunkered down throughout the long pandemic, and Eva rapped along with Lin-Manual Miranda, I began to dream about taking her on a trip where she could experience the nation’s colonial and revolutionary past in as realistic way as possible. I had been to the Historic Triangle in Williamsburg, Virginia, and it was the closest thing I’ve experienced to time travel. So after we got vaccinated and the world began to reopen, I called Liz and suggested she and her oldest grandchildren join Eva and I on this trip. That is the origin story of the Elucidating Grannies.
Stay tuned for the details of our adventure in future posts.
First stop, historic Jamestown.