How well do you know your heroes?
Last year was the summer I stalked Mark Twain. It started by chance, with me browsing at the library.
I spotted the audiobook, Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers, and checked it out. Wow, the things I learned! The book had me bawling more than once during my commute. I had to be careful to listen to it on the way home instead of on the way to town so I wouldn’t arrive all puffy-eyed and sniffling.
Then, weeks later, Mr. Smith and I were planning our vacation route, looking for ways to avoid big highways with big traffic. “We could go up through Hannibal,” he said, and my ears tingled. Hannibal, Missouri!? That’s Mark Twain’s hometown! It was decided. On the way, we listened to the audiobook, Tom Sawyer. When we arrived, we had lunch at the Tom Sawyer Dinette. (I tried “the” root beer.) We toured Clemens’ childhood home and the Hannibal History Museum. We spotted Mark Twain graffiti. Then, we climbed Cardiff Hill and looked down on the mighty river. We listened to calliope music. We touched THE FENCE (okay, it was a re-creation, but still — whoa!). It was 93 degrees. My husband loves me.
Samuel Clemens was a sad man. But he had a deep-rooted joy that just wouldn’t let him go, even during the darkest times. It was bittersweet to learn about his losses and fears. But it’s not fair to hold our heroes to an impossible standard. Isn’t it just as important to know about the weaknesses, the character flaws, the hidden selves that make our inspirations human?
This year, we’re thinking about dipping down to New Mexico… Hello, Georgia O’Keefe? Willa Cather? Others?
Here’s how I’ll prepare for a summer of stalking another member of my creative family tree:
Before we leave, I’ll read a book or two (or five when I should be packing and getting the house straightened up for the house-sitters) about my target. I’ll find out some things about my hero that I’m not going to like. This is good, because we live in a time that allows us to feed ourselves a steady diet of only things we like. Confronting and analyzing and coming to terms with bad stuff in the life of someone we’ve admired from afar will help us confront bad stuff in our own life, and understand other people better. We all need that!
I’ll also get a basic idea of our travel itinerary — but leave lots of room for improvising!
As far as souvenirs, think outside the usual t-shirt/coffee mug box. I have the ticket stubs from my Mark Twain museum tour, and I use one for a bookmark and one went in my bullet journal.
Be careful and respectful about what you take. Check local regulations; sometimes even picking the flowers to press between wax paper isn’t allowed. How about prints from a local artist to hang on your gallery wall at home? If it’s an item that holds the essence of your trip, then it works!
Aside from leaving excellent reviews online, praising those who went out of their way to offer great service, how can you benefit the place you chose to spend time? I like to leave a book or two by West Virginia authors in the motel’s lobby reading nook. If you can close the circle of the things you love, you might leave something meaningful for someone else. Even if it means taking litter left by another, you can leave a place better than you found it. Your gratitude can positively affect those who walk daily in the legacy of your heroes. Now, isn’t that nice?
This summer, see if you can work in a day trip — or even a few days! — to chase your heroes and walk where they walked. It will change the way you think, and then affect your life in unpredictable ways.
Whose footsteps can you trace this summer?
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