The care and feeding of curious minds is one of the delightful duties of grandfathers & grandmothers.
By HARVEY BLUMENTHAL
Grandfathers have all kinds of delightful duties, and teaching history is among them. When our grandson, Stevie, was four and visiting Grandma Sandy and me in Tulsa, my friend Donald offered Stevie a dollar if he could correctly answer Don’s questions about George Washington. The next year it was five dollars for Abe Lincoln. The third year, I forewarned Donald I was going to prep Stevie on Alexander Hamilton, and I drilled Stevie, by then six, for two days before we all got together at the Fourth of July picnic.
While coaching Stevie, I told him that Aaron Burr shot Hamilton, and this led me to add that John Wilkes Booth killed President Lincoln. Stevie asked probing questions: “Was Booth always a bad guy? What happened to him?…” When I showed him photos of Booth in the book The Day Lincoln Was Shot he seemed absorbed, and I thought, what a curious, fertile mind.
July 4th arrived and Donald soon popped the question. Stevie stole a glance at me before confidently answering, “Hamilton was Treasurer of the Secretary.” Close enough. “And Hamilton was shot by Aaron Burr,” he added. Don rewarded both Stevie (and his younger brother, Ben), with a ten spot. We joked about next year and Andrew Jackson and, secretly, I was licking my chops for Ben Franklin!
Not long after, my son Bill phoned to report that he’d overhead Stevie and his friend Dean talking. Dean was telling Stevie what a bad man Saddam Hussein was, and Stevie countered with “John Wilkes Booth was worse . . . he assassinated President Lincoln.” Bill assured the boys that Saddam was thousands of miles away and would have to cross an ocean to get anywhere near them
Another month passed before Bill accompanied Stevie to a friend’s birthday party at a farm in the Maryland countryside. The hay wagon tractor driver told the kids that the farm had been a hideout for the Surratts, participants in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. The parents looked at one another and muttered, “What’s this guy telling these six year olds?” These kids were not even listening; none even knew the word “assassination.” Except Stevie, who asked, “What about John Wilkes Booth?”
As he grew from a small boy to a man, I loved teaching Stevie many things, but teaching him history brought particular pleasure. Was it wrong for me to be happy?
About the author
Harvey Blumenthal is a retired physician in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has published many essays and memoirs. He served two years (1970-72) active duty as a Navy physician during the Vietnam War.