As you might guess, my home is full of books. Overflowing would be too strong a word, but my wife and I are making a conscientious attempt at winnowing our typographical treasures. Thus, it’s something of a setback whenever a new book is added to the collection. Sometimes, though, I just can’t help myself.
Our local library is following a similar path as that taken by my wife and I; they are continuously purging their holdings. Their castoffs are often my temptations, especially since almost all of them are cut loose for a measly 25 cents. This week I succumbed, plunking down a quarter for “Old Home Day” by Donald Hall.
“Old Home Day” is a children’s book and the colorful watercolor illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully sold me as much as the delightful, to-the-point text by poet Hall. There’s something of a disclaimer to the 1996 book, noting that it is “the story of the growth of a fictional New Hampshire village from prehistory to the bicentennial celebration of its founding.”
Despite the fiction part, “Old Home Day” could be the story of thousands of communities across the United States: Carved by glaciers, lush forests and grasslands taking root, Native Americans arriving, followed by trappers and inevitable conflicts. Farmers staking their claims with commerce right behind, bringing with it roads and railroads that slice through the wilderness. Rapid growth and then an inexplicable exodus to the growing cities.
But the book sounds an optimistic note, playing off the real Old Home Week proclaimed by New Hampshire Governor Frank Rollins in 1899. Rollins’ call for people to reconnect with their roots had an impact well beyond New Hampshire, though it’s hard to tell how many people were actually lured back to their rural origins because of Rollins’ action.
Well-orchestrated family history projects are the literary equivalent of Old Home Week, allowing descendants a glimpse into their own family’s roots through the stories of their ancestors.
Larry Lehmer is a professional personal historian who helps people preserve their family histories. To learn more, visit his web site, send him an e-mail or follow him on Twitter.