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Please Bury My Disappointment
For as long as I can remember, I've considered “old” a term of endearment, even a compliment, rather than an insult. When I was little old folks enchanted me with their tales of yesteryear. Instead of rolling my eyes when my grandmother flipped through her high school yearbook, I scooted by her side and listened to her quips about every member of her graduating class. Talk about a serious Hallmark moment.
The 1940s clothes and hairstyles looked perfect to me, a child of '90s gaudiness. (I type that with a dash of irony, considering I'm clad in glittery pink Jellies this very second). Just the everyday language and activities printed in classic types seemed so quaint. My high school would never have a sewing club. Our yearbook committee also wouldn't think twice about using Comic Sans.
Grandma giggled at the serious expressions on some of the young men's faces, boys just young enough to escape death in World War II. Then her pale, lined finger jumped to her senior portrait and lingered there. I'll never forget what she said about her sixteen-year-old self:
“Everyone thought I was some kind of artsy bum, really. But I had class because I was so cute. Sure my teeth were crooked, but look at those eyes!”
“Tweety Bird eyes,” I said.
Grandma nodded approvingly before returning to decades-old gossip:
“Yeah, they were swingers.”
My love for the old didn't stop with old folks' stories. Family vacations often involved crumbling stone, or moldy books of some sort. There were the many visits to the Mount Battie Memorial Tower in Camden, Maine. 787 feet above sea level, the tower offers one of the best coastal New England views I've ever known. There were also many visits to el Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida, the museums and cathedrals of New York City, the cobblestoned streets of Montreal. We visited England and Spain and nearly all 50 states by the time I was 17. I had become one of those annoying little pricks who corrected Park Rangers at campfire talks about Roosevelt and other dead guys.
Since we lived in Virginia, a.k.a. Confederate History Central, it wasn't uncommon for my parents to take my sisters and me to a Civil War battlefield on a Saturday afternoon just because. Re-enactors never freaked us out, even the 300-pound, red-faced men wearing wool uniforms in the middle of the summer as they muttered about Dixie Pride.
Of course I watched cartoons like other kids, but they were often the same ones my mother had watched at my age: Max Fleischer, Hanna-Barbera, early Disney, early Warner Bros. To say I read would be an understatement. I read pretty much anything and everything, critiquing even the copy on cereal boxes. But when I was actually being selective, I usually chose old books or books about old things. Friends have often said I am not of this era. I wouldn't be surprised if my soul had been born 2,000 years ago.
With this background in mind, it should come as no surprise that I signed up for my city's archeological association's listserv as soon as I discovered it. I was new to the place and, as such, took a couple of hours to scour the Internet for volunteer calls one lonely afternoon. I'd learn something new, give back to the community, and hopefully make a friend or two. If a call involved art or history, I signed up for it. Before I knew it, my inbox was flooded with newsletters and listserv posts. The most unusual call was for excavation volunteers. The city archeological association trained volunteers in digging techniques, taught them the known history of a site, paired them with an experienced digger, and eventually prepared them to dig under the supervision of a respected Chesapeake archeologist.
It sounded like a history dork's dream. The Indiana Jones theme song blared in my head and I wasn't kissing a young and hot Harrison Ford—I was Harrison Ford (in a skirt, with boobs). I imagined stumbling across some priceless artifact that would solve several historical mysteries all at once. I would find the next Rosetta Stone. An email later, I had registered myself for the first orientation of the season. Unfortunately, that orientation was still months off. So I waited.
For the next week, when close friends called or emailed me to ask what I was up to in my new city, I blabbed about the glamorous dig I'd be a part of in a few months' time. It didn't matter what was actually happening in my life that week. Because once June rolled around, I'd be wielding a trowel like a pro.
Then the fateful day finally arrived. My boyfriend and younger sister tagged along and, while they were enthusiastic, it wouldn't be accurate to say they were as thrilled as I was. Now I was living in a different city about two hours away and I had driven up mainly for the dig. True, I had other things to do that weekend, but all I cared about was that dig.
“It's going to be like free field school!” I told my boyfriend after gasping like Miss Piggy when she first met Kermit—except Miss Piggy was meeting the love of her life and I was about to kneel in the dirt to look for old stuff most people don't care about.
My boyfriend smiled and kissed me on the forehead. Okay, I'm crazy, but at least I'm cute.
We got to the site half an hour later and walked around before heading to the building where other history nerds congregated at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. We put our initials by our names on a printed list and took a seat. Since a screen was set up, we knew a video or Powerpoint awaited us. Whatever. Even if it was boring, we'd get to meet a real archeologist! And we'd be going on a real dig! TODAY!
Well, the real archeologist and the director of the association stood in front of the couple dozen of us gathered there. They introduced themselves and then shuffled around so the archeologist could begin his presentation. It was the ugliest Powerpoint I'd ever seen in my life. He had used every bell and whistle available in the new version of the software and chose images of all the wrong sizes. I averted my gaze each time I caught sight of a pixelated photo. This happened more than once. Whatever. We'd be going on a real dig not too long from now! TODAY!
The presentation went on and on. The archeologist was not the most engaging speaker. He was just awkward in that painful, not adorable, way. Somehow he managed to breathe monotony into what should've been a fascinating Revolutionary War story full of weird family drama. By the time he'd gotten to the Civil War history of the site, I was nearly dozing off. My sister had actually fallen asleep. Somehow my boyfriend feigned a convincing amount of interest. Knowing him, he was probably day-dreaming about his pet dinosaur. Whatever. We'd be going on a real dig any minute now! TODAY!
After the archeologist finished boring our butts off, the director started her presentation on digging techniques. To put it politely, she was even less of an engaging speaker than the archeologist. Luckily, her Powerpoint wasn't as ugly.There were even some nice photos. I woke up a little. BECAUSE WE WERE GOING ON A DIG, DAMMIT.
After two hours worth of half-listening, the director asked us to get ready to go outside. I jumped up and sprinted to the lobby. My sister laughed when she caught up to me, saying I had won the race. Everyone else meandered from their seats to the lobby. The director talked some more and I started wiggling in place.
“I wanna go outside,” I whispered to my boyfriend.
“We're about to go.”
“I wanna go nooow.”
“We're about to go.”
I felt like a scolded child, something I normally would've complained about, but I was too giddy.
Fast-forward half an hour. We were standing at the site, listening to the director (again), not getting our hands dirty. That's when she announced that digging wouldn't begin until AT LEAST next week! WE WOULD NOT BE DIGGING TODAY. We'd have to sign up for future digs and get dirty and be Indiana Jones then. I sulked and my digging party left because orientation was wrapping up, I was a heartbroken child, and I had to go teach a workshop. I stormed to the car and drove like a psycho to my next engagement. After a quick stop at Wendy's, I ate fries in rage, weaving in and out of my lane.
First World problems, I know. I should be too much of an old soul to let anything bother me. I can delay my gratification a week. Yet this was a history thing and I care dearly about history. Plus, that first Powerpoint was hideous.
Weigh in. Tell me, did I overreact? Do I need to get over my Indiana Jones fantasies? Do I have strange, dorky desires? Or did I have a right to feel disappointed? Please comment!