My mom’s method of family vacation was to see everything possible, whenever we visited a place. When we went to Boston one spring, it felt like we walked the entire city, and saw every last historical monument. We went to a beautiful church, and its reflection in the side of the glass office buildings beside it; we saw the ducks in the garden, we went to the library and we went to the ballet, and we went to the Old North Church and Copps Hill Cemetery. We went to Plymouth, and we also went up to Concord, and saw so many more things it all turns into sort of a blur and I feel inundated by monuments and memorials and great places in history. One place that stands out, though, is Paul Revere’s house.
I can’t really say anything about the outside of the house, all these years later. Or even too much about the inside of the house, except for the staircase. We were walking up the staircase, and it was very narrow. It curved up and around, and the ceiling seemed very low, and the wood seemed to be polished from the amount of traffic it had seen. And I remember thinking “Paul Revere walked up these steps.” For a moment, it was as if time itself changed, and there was very little that separated me from Paul Revere. He had walked up those steps, and other people had walked up those steps, and suddenly he was a real person to me. Not some person in history, but a real live person who walked up stairs, who really lived.
I love historical fiction, and I liked studying history in school so long as we actually learned about the story part of it, not just the names, dates, and locations. But those people never seemed real to me. Now, starting from that moment on Paul Revere’s staircase, I’ve been able to see the gap of time close, and realize I am standing not only in the present, but in the shadow of the past. Suddenly the people of the past are no longer names and dates, but real people with feelings who saw the same things I am now seeing, whether it’s Paul Revere’s staircase, the canons of the USS Constitution, or even the cabin where my mom spent her summers. These were complicated people, who had real feelings, not the pawns we make them out to be. Poetry helps the gap close, more than reams of dates. To stand at Paul Revere’s house, or the Old North Church, and hear Longfellow’s poem ring in my ears, that connects the story to the real people. To stand aboard the USS Constitution, and remember Holmes’ “Ay, tear her battered ensign down!” is to remember this is not just a story to be told, but a story that was experienced. I tell my story so others remember their stories, the stories of Paul Revere and everyone else who went up and down on his staircase.