GC Blog

Exploring the Familiar

I’ve watched the news coverage in disbelief the past few weeks as my home state has made international headlines. The River that both shares its name and over centuries deposited perhaps the world’s richest soil across my beloved Delta is raging again. As images of devastation have flashed across the news, my thoughts have often turned to history and to those two dates all area residents know -- 1927 and 1937, floods that still live in infamy. I wanted to know more.

My quest quickly led me John Barry’s tome on the topic, Rising Tide. I knew Barry as author of The Great Influenza, but not having read it myself, was unprepared for the power of his prose. Suddenly, a snapshot in history became as vibrant as any novel, alive with characters, conflict and intrigue. I was hooked. Page after page, I traveled the dirt roads of Washington County, passing sharecroppers in the fields, and waltzed through the extravagant balls of Mardi Gras, when New Orleans was at its apex. The 1920s were alive, and the history and people of a place, my own space on the planet, became real in a way I would have never imagined.

It’s made me think a lot about the legacies of cities and towns and how we can spend infinite amounts of time somewhere and never really know that much about it. I’ve lived so many places, yet when I really think about it, what did I really know about the history of the area? It took me reading Barry’s book to learn where the name of my Dad’s hometown came from, and that my own little hometown was once not so little. Who knew the Mississippi Delta and the crops it produced were lynchpins in the global economy of the early 1900s? I certainly didn’t, and I’m from there!

What about you-- what do you know about the history of your own hometown? When was the last time you explored a historical site in your city? Who is that monument for in front of the courthouse anyway? I challenge you to do your own local detective work. Read a book about your home state. Take an afternoon and visit somewhere historic nearby. Learn a little more about your space on the planet. You may be surprised at what’s hidden beneath the familiar…