Friday, November 28, 2014

What Talking Walls Told a Teacher

[Photo: Approaching Powers' cabin, July 2014]
All those years I bused students to Savannah for tours of historical sites, I could have put them in touch with living roots of their own community.  Teachers drawn to the Talking Walls program in July 2014 saw wonders hidden in plain sight among the developments and retail spaces of Cobb County. 

For example, nestled in woods behind upscale shopping and homes around Powers Ferry Road, there’s a little cabin lived in and cared for by a lady named Morning Washburn. We got some sense of Morning’s life there when she ladled into our cupped palms cool water freshly drawn from the well; when we stood in the shade of the vast cedar tree behind the cabin; when we walked half a mile on a grassy trail to see the fields and barns of her late neighbors, a place now preserved as Hyde’s Farm.

With Talking Walls, I found so much that I’d overlooked in my own back yard.  A long-time member of St. James’ Church, I’d never explored east of Marietta Square, nor visited Root House, home of one of the church’s founders.  Cutting through Kennesaw to the interstate, I’d driven a segment of the storied Old Dixie Highway without knowing it.  For me, Acworth had been just a spot on my way to other places, so I felt acute regret at what I’d dismissed when Talking Walls took us through sites on both sides of the railroad tracks, including an elegant turn-of-the-twentieth century home and Bethel Church, lovingly constructed by its original members (now preserved with help from Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society). 

I connect to all this through my own memories of grandparents; but what can these Talking Walls say to children now generations away from the world of small farms and sepia-toned memories?  Looking into everyday life in earlier times, my students typically dwell on deprivation: no “technology,” no showers, no air-conditioning.  They assume that time was tedious without the screens and wheels that take us to our entertainments today.

Talking Walls can teach students how time itself felt different.  From Morning Washburn, they’ll get a sense of time as a resource, one which must be used in season and tended.  Morning often mentioned "stewardship,” how she spent her days caring for the land and the cabin.   She described some repairs she made to the roof, the limbs sawed off the cedar, the time she climbed down the well, her competition with numerous deer for the fruits of her garden, and the process of washing clothes and hanging them in the sunlight. In her telling, stewardship of this place is a responsibility both solemn and joyful.  

Talking Walls can give our kids perspective on the lives we lead now.  I don’t suppose Morning Washburn gets to listen to Ravel while she sips a cold cocktail at the end of a hard day.  Still, when my smart phone dings in traffic to inform me of new meetings added to my agenda, it’s refreshing to think: it doesn't have to be this way.

(This article was written for the October newsletter of Cobb Landmarks, co-sponsor of the program "Talking Walls."  It is an expanded version of an article I wrote for this blog while still involved in the program, Georgia Landmarks Take Me Back.)

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