Jimbob's Journal
by Jim Harris
First printed in E. D. Herb, Health and Harmony , July, 2000

Germantown, Pennsylvania was carved out of the forest in 1690 by adventurous pilgrims following an ancient Indian trail out from Philadelphia. In 1790, most of the simple huts had given way to fine stone colonials. It was still predominantly German but there were now a few English and free Blacks. 1890 saw incorporation by the burgeoning city of Philadelphia and the addition of Victorian mansions along with Irish and Italian immigrants. Today, new arrivals from Asia and the West Indies have further enriched the polyglot of races and cultures. The architecture is equally diverse, old and new, large and small, side by side.

I managed to live in Germantown for forty years without knowing any of this information. I pretty much kept my head down as I went about my daily duties. Still, there was one old gray building that always piqued my interest. Tucked away on a lonely stretch of that old Indian trail, it had a small wooden shingle that said, "Germantown Historical Society". Now, to me, history was a collection of dates on which epic events transpired, certainly not anything that affected my little province. "What could they possibly have in there?", I thought. I tried peeking in the window, to no avail.

I have always been intimidated by academia. Back when I went to school (the stone age), that's the way they wanted it, so it was no easy feat for me to screw up my courage and cross that dusty threshold. I half expected some stuffy museum-type to ask me what I was doing there and snicker at my appalling lack of sophistication. Instead, I found friendly, charming people who showed me around and inquired as to my own history in the area The real treat, however, was their collection of what they call "primary sources" - letters, scrapbooks, photographs, newspaper clippings, and much more, all one-of-a-kind, and donated by the families, individuals, or groups that created them.

One turn of the century (1900) gentleman had put together a 9-volume set of scrapbooks devoted to a local park. I felt a strange and immediate sense of kinship as I gently touched the fragile words and pictures so lovingly placed on the pages. I saw pictures of sites, like my old swimming hole, that I recognized, and read accounts of little adventures in locations that I knew very well. I felt that he had really captured the spirit of this place that meant so much to me. I suddenly realized that the lives of everyday people were every bit as fascinating as those of epic figures, even more so in a historical sense, since they are so affected by the prevailing conventions of the day.

I can only say that this experience has made me feel different about the world and my place in it. I am no longer peeking in the window. I feel a part rather than apart, and that's the key to living in harmony.

Consider creating your own documents of time and place. You could focus on one aspect of your life (your house, your church, your hobbies, etc.), or make it more wide-ranging. At the very least, it will become a cherished family heirloom, and it just might send someone at the turn of the next century a simple but powerful message - there's no place like home.

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