Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A little hymn book

Hailey brought in more artifacts today as part of her heritage inquiry for Social Studies 10, a yearbook from PGSS 1988, where her mom went -- my dad was a teacher there so she wanted to show the picture (apparently I'm looking more like him these days). She had a book of nautical engineering that was given to her (great?)grandfather before going off to WWII.  One can imagine him looking through the book with the horrific backdrop of the war.  He went on to invent many things and register patents... according to Hailey he invented the ping-pong ball and improved the tennis ball. The other cool thing, plucked from a shelf in her basement, was a little leather-bound hymn book. We found the background online and figured out it is the 1780 edition of John Wesley's Methodist hymn book, so it was published some time between then and when the 1876 version came out. The first few pages are missing so it is hard to tell which printing, but it is definitely the earlier edition and appears to be on acid-free paper. We gathered some students and teachers around , and talked about what we were holding and looking at.  This little book was carried to church, carried around, a source of comfort (probably) and also a reflection of faith, theology, values, etc. for her ancestors. This one came from England, but one can imagine many Methodist pioneers in Upper Canada using the same book. But more specifically, more intimately, the holder of the book spent more time on certain hymns as evidenced by worn pages, pencil marks, and ancient finger smudges. It is a reasonable guess to assume that these hymns represented the aspirations, doubts, concerns, and reassurances that would have been very important to her family. Or maybe it belonged to teenager who opened up to the same spot every time he was told to look busy! She didn't know about any of this a week ago (e.g. like the Admiral Nelson story), and she says she goes home these days and brings out the laptop and is trying to figure out these people, places, and ideas and start to fill in the details. The power of a little book worn ragged by a distant hand... in the absence of journals and such, how often do we get a glimpse into the minds of our ancestors? Again, wow... I want the clock to stop so we can dwell in these stories for longer than one hour at a time.

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