Monday, December 28, 2015

Old Sturbridge Village Failed to Make the Desired Impact on Me

Sometime in the autumn of 1986, my fourth grade class awoke early in the morning for the long drive north-east from the Bronx to "Old Sturbridge Village," an "1830s New England Living History Museum" in Massachusetts.  

But though ambitious, this field trip (like so many grade school field trips before and after it) failed to make the desired impact on me and my classmates.

The sun was barely rising over Connecticut as I tried in vain to find comfort on the hard, cracking, plastic green seats of the big yellow cheese bus bouncing jarringly along the highway. I smashed the right side of my face up against a grimy, plexiglass window and stared out at the barren trees lining Interstate-84. An adult chaperone chastised several 10 year-old blonde boys who were sharing one pair of Walkman headphones and cackling at 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny," playing at top volume. Four girls in pigtails and leg warmers whispered conspiratorially to one another.

Three hours and one Dunkin' Donuts rest stop later, the cheese bus transported us 150 years back in time to the set of an M. Night Shyamalan movie and an era when life was tougher, simpler, and much, much shittier.

The dominant feelings during my visit to Old Sturbridge Village constituted a gray slurry of boredom, embarrassment, self-reflective ennui, and tempered relief--which in retrospect were the dominant feelings of my entire childhood.

Throughout the day, the chaperones and teachers continued to shush and hiss at the gaggle of misbehaving children as we made our way through the "village," trailing docents decked to the nines in 19th century New England cosplay. We ducked through tiny bedroom doorways ("DAAAAMN, the pilgrims was SHORT!!!") and stared with sullen, disengaged vacancy at butter churners, yokes, troughs, bonnets, and cast-iron farming tools displayed with loving precision on a rustic barn door. 

Rather than losing myself in this fascinating moment of American history though, I felt relieved that by being born in the 1970's rather than the 1820's, I had narrowly escaped an 8th grade education in a one-room church schoolhouse; squirting out babies every year starting with my first period until I died in childbirth; toiling on a farm; shitting in a bucket; and/or perishing slowly from a common cold that today would easily be eradicated in 24 hours with a single dose of antibiotics or a vaccine.

The highlight of the day was watching two pigs fucking while we ate soggy turkey sandwiches and bruised apples from the "village orchard" on wooden picnic tables in a freshly-mowed field. Like cannibals, our lunch meat's more fortunate brethren pecked about our Reeboks looking for scraps, and I think at least one child vomited.

That evening, my mother discovered a robust and thriving community of head lice in my scalp, and word quickly spread that the entire fourth grade had been colonized by the pest. It was the perfect denouement to the day of "living history" with which we'd all been so enraptured at Old Sturbridge Village.

Later, as a teenager, I did a bike trip through Pennsylvania Dutch Amish country. As I squeezed my hand brakes to prevent my bike's front tire from skidding through a steaming pile of horse manure, I suddenly recalled Old Sturbridge Village, and wondered why we hadn't just come here instead.

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