One of the good things about getting older is the ability to look back and take stock. Reflection reveals understanding.
It is only then, from the perspective of time, that one can see the thread that weaves through a life. Only then that one can understand how seemingly insignificant decisions helped give direction to a life.
I’ve been thinking about growing up and how a variety of experiences helped to form me and give shape to my intense interest in the past. I was thinking about the things that inspired my historical interest. I was remembering how the Conlins, friends of my parents, returning from a trip to Florida, stopped at some roadside gift shop in Virginia and bought a Civil War bullet that was glued to a printed card that briefly told its story. They later presented me with that trinket souvenir and changed my life.
Holding the bullet in my hands and studying its details, my imagination was sparked by thoughts of a young Confederate soldier dropping that bullet, perhaps while fumbling to load his musket during battle, and moving on with his comrades. The relic was buried in the earth – perhaps tossed by plows and annual frost, before being rediscovered and held in hands a century removed. What stories this silent witness to the past might reveal, of long marches, campfire chatter, and the carnage of battle.
That artifact ignited an interest in collecting and studying the war that so divided our country. It is war that our nation has still not fully come to terms with in either understanding or escaping. It is a war that still shapes our lives, and a war where the deep divisions of race and allegiance still challenge us.
That small leaden relic of war inspired me to study, and write, and collect. The realization that the history that was studied in books, could also be held in your hand was a spark. The study of history – the attempt to understand our unique American past, has made me a better person. The study of history, all encouraged by one relic set me out on a path of life and adventure that I could scarcely imagine.
While I am blessed to have my parents still living and healthy, their two friends that gifted the relic to me have passed. Tom Conlin was a decorated Navy veteran of World War II. He died in 2010. His wife Joan, passed on January 7, 2022, just one day shy of her ninety-seventh birthday.
We never know what will inspire. We never understand how our simple actions can define and redirect some part of our all too brief time on earth. Today I give thanks to those that inspired me, and those who have supported my life in history.