I grew up in Philadelphia, a stone’s throw from Valley Forge. I never really thought about this; we went to Valley Forge often, like going to a city park.
When we moved to Illinois, in 9th grade, none of my new classmates believed me. To them, Valley Forge was a distant myth of the remote past, populated with heroes from history books, not little girls in shorts.
On the other hand, it took me 20 years to realize that I now lived barely 3 hours from the Mississippi. I had crossed it twice, on various college road trips, before the revelation hit me, that this big river underneath me was the Mississippi. Lewis and Clark’s Mississippi. Mark Twain’s Mississippi. Huck Finn’s Mississippi. As mythic to me, living nearly next to it, as Valley Forge was to my middle school mates. Now I have seen the Mississippi from a levy in West Helena, Arkansas, and a river boat in New Orleans, from bridges in Minnesota, and bluffs in Illinois. I’ve tracked the hills that line it with my eyes, and followed roads that wind along it, knowing the big river is somewhere just around the bend, past the last farm, at the end of this creek.
I think I will never get past the wonder and the awe that I am someone who gets to see the Mississippi River. I’m not sure I could be more impressed by the pyramids.
Like Sam Gamgee, wondering if he and Frodo would be put into songs and tales, we live in myth without even knowing it. I stand regularly where the Mormon trek began. I have followed, without knowing, parts of the Trail of Tears. Pioneer and Potowatomie blood and artifacts fertilize the ground beneath my feet. My line reaches back through my mother and grandmother, through ancestor upon ancestor to the Urmother who birthed us all.
We are part of the tale reaching back into the past and forward into the future. To quote Sam again,
“A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going.”
We all just keep going, never knowing what parts of our lives will move into the myths of our descendents.