Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On this day in history...

It was a favorite rainy-day game in my family. What happened on this day in history? With the gold-embossed, leather-bound Encyclopedia Britannica volumes stretched out before us on the bookshelf, we would see what we could find out about the day at hand. The contest was to see who among the four of us kids could come up with the most momentous historical happening. We divided up the volumes among us and stacked them beside us, sitting cross-legged on the den floor.

This was before the Internet, when research weighed several pounds and smelled of leather and dust. And when I said it was a favorite family game, I really meant one of those activities mandated by a parent and that, at the time, we children interpreted as torture -- probably medieval torture, from when that parent (Dad)was a kid himself. It was also an activity which, once begun, was a lot more engaging, stimulating, and yes, I'll say it, fun than we ever thought it could be. It was definitely more fun than we ever would admit to my dad. (He liked to torture us on road trips, too -- by organizing running races and leading us in calisthenics at rest stops and gas stations.)

So there we were, books spread open across our laps and the carpet, rifling through the thin pages, hunting for anything that happened on that day. We each had our strength. My eldest sister was the true researcher, methodical and organized. No willy-nilly page shuffling for her. Meanwhile my brother was the least invested in the game. He was easily distracted by any subject that caught his eye and held his interest. Volumes B and C were his favorites (for Boy Scouts, camping and cars). My other sister was the one who could call upon her powerful memory to lead her to the information she sought. Her sharp mind made her the competitor to beat. Maybe it was my survival strategy as the youngest child, I don't know, but my talent was creative problem solving. If I couldn't find the answer, I could fashion a pretty credible fiction instead. If I could weave a story that captured my audience's attention, I could distract them from my thin facts. It didn't score me the win very often, but it was fun. I think it's what first sparked my interest in historical fiction.

Voting for a winner, the best thing that happened on this day in history was loud and hotly debated, but ultimately, the deciding vote was Dad's. No doubt, there was more to his plan than simply occupying our attention for a while. I think he was happy to see us using our minds and expressing our views -- especially if we could argue our point with skill. (When he had us doing jumping jacks at a Mobile station, I'm fairly certain his plan was just to wear us out, so we'd sleep in the car.)

Nowadays, the game would be played on the Internet. We can test our skills at running search engines and utilizing keywords. A good brain game transcends technology, though.

Here are a few websites that could get you started at your next family game night: http://www.libraryspot.com/ask/today.htm,

So what are a few of the things that happened today, October 20, in history?

* In 1803, the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. That agreement doubled the size of the country for about 4 cents an acre.

* A 1947 Congressional committee began an investigation into communism in Hollywood, kicking off the Red Scare.

* On this day in 1990, members of 2 Live Crew were acquitted of obscenity charges.

* Bela Lugosi, Charles Ives, Christopher Wren, and Micky Mantle were all born on October 20.


Anonymous said...

Ah, what we parents will do to keep their kids busy. Or just quiet. Or asleep. My dad never resorted to that sort of thing, but I think I might, it might do a certain ladybug and monkey some good in the future. ;-) Your idea of using the Internet for a modern "This Day in History" reminds me of the game of Google Fu, wherein someone thinks up the most obscure subject they can, for which others have to find the best online reference. And another Google game, where one tries to make up a search that yields the *fewest* results, e.g. "juggler itch" (none!)- can't remember the name of that game. (Strangely, I Googled it to no avail.) Keep up the good blogging, Lynne!

Roberta said...

Looking back, I think I was largely raised by Worldbook. My parents were off somewhere, reading or listening to music or hanging with other grown-ups, and I was lying on my stomach paging through the encyclopedias. The answer to everything was in there, and remarkably easy to find. I still think the Worldbook has the best index in the library. We had Britannica too, but the print was tiny and there weren't nearly enough pictures.

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