If Only. . .
I’m grateful for the crew of volunteers who worked so hard to preserve a bit of local history with the careful restoration of Sand Bank School in Columbia, Illinois. Built during the 1850s, it stands on the site of an even earlier school, a log cabin built in 1801 to serve the original seventeen families pioneering in the area. Perched on a hill overlooking the Mississippi Valley, the one-room schoolhouse looks like the sort of place (to me anyway) that might be a portal for time travel. Every time I visit a historical site, I start imagining the people who lived and died there, wishing I could go back to just see what it was like.
Maybe if I went back to the school when the sun was down and all the visitors were gone…?
I’ve always loved thinking about the “olden days.” I thought about them a lot, growing up in the tiny once-upon-a-time village of Woodburn, Illinois. How could I not, living in a house with the date 1874 carved into its soft red brick?
My siblings and I acted as amateur historians when we collected arrow heads Native Americans had left behind for our chickens to scratch up centuries later. We explored the old, nearly forgotten roads. On one, we found a barn where an old stagecoach was being kept out of the rain. (Sorry for trespassing, Mr. Stevens. We couldn’t help it.) And we listened to the stories about how the Woodburn had once bustled back in the day with its stagecoach inn, blacksmith shop, stores, mill, and brick factory.
We heard how the stages used to pass through on their way from Springfield down to Alton and how Abraham Lincoln sometimes stayed at the inn. I heard the stories and read the scant entries in the Macoupin County History Book and I wished that I, like our chickens, could scratch up more clues to the past. I wished men and women had written more about their lives. I wished I could see for myself. I wished Mr. Peabody would loan me his WABAC Machine.
I never found the way back. But the beauty of fiction is that my characters can. In Time and Again, I allow Abby and Merrideth to see it all exactly the way it really was when a girl named Charlotte lived in their old house as part of a bustling village. And while Abraham Lincoln didn’t spend the night there, he did sit down to a nice meal Charlotte cooked.
One of the things I’d do if I could go back would be to visit my ancestors. Wouldn’t it be cool to see if you resembled your great, great, great grandparents? Alas, I don’t know the way. But, in Unclaimed Legacy, I let Abby and John and their friends see their ancestors and discover the heroes in their family tree.
And in book three they’ll get to visit Egypt–Little Egypt, that southernmost part of Illinois. I’ve done the research, imagined new characters into being and now I’m cooking up new time-surfing adventures for Abby and John.
Living vicariously through them helps. I can’t go back myself, but that’s all right, for now.
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