Before we all awoke to set out to see Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, I was counting sheep. Then I started counting cookies. After dinner the night before, we went to Subway just to get cookies and made it there right before they closed. They gave us more than a dozen for free.
Whether it’s cookies or ice cream, I have zero will power. So, even though I felt guilty, I devoured every last cookie and crumb sitting on a table at the foot of the hotel bed, hoping my crunching wouldn’t wake anyone else up.
There was hell to pay in the morning. I cowered out of shame like my dog does when he knows he did something he should not have done.
Anyway, all was right in the kids’ world after indulging on chocolate pancakes. Now we were ready for our magical history tour.
One of the fascinating things about the trip was how history wove connections up the coast as we went. For example, Jefferson had an incredible personal library of books. But only a fraction of which remained at Monticello. When the Library of Congress burned – destroying its collection of books – during the War of 1812, Jefferson restarted it with his own personal collection. Later on in the trip, we visited the Library of Congress – such an astonishingly beautiful place – and saw Jefferson’s original book collection. To think, it was once the entire collection for the Library of Congress.
Going into the tour of Monticello, I knew the tales about Jefferson’s promiscuity with his female slaves. But what I didn’t know is that DNA proved a slave by the name of Sally Hemmings mothered at least one child by Jefferson. More interesting was that Hemmings was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Hemmings was inherited with Martha’s father’s estate. Another interesting note, in light of Jefferson’s “closeness” to his slaves is that he did not free them all in his will as George Washington had.
Monticello was designed with some very unique characteristics. Two stuck with me. The first was his bed built to divide two rooms, his bedroom from his office (called cabinet). This set-up was designed to save space. And it had the first skylights in the U.S. The second was a peculiar clock in the entrance hall. It was powered by cannon ball-like weights on ropes but it was too long so a hole was cut into the floor allowing it to extend to the cellar below. Therefore, all of the plaques with days of the week weren’t visible at once. Later, we made it our mission to explore the cellar to find Saturday.
Before departing this historic wonder, and its grand gardens, landscaping, architecture and past, we marveled at one last incredulous footnote in American history.
On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1826 – the last two founding fathers, former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died. They had been friends, fellow revolutionaries and adversaries. In 1796, they ran against each other in the nation’s first contested presidential election. And it got ugly!
On his death bed, Adam’s last words were, “At least Jefferson still lives,” but Jefferson had actually preceded him in death by several hours.
Later while unwinding, I happened across the kids’ journals we were “forcing” them to keep. Their entries thus far made it sound like we were on the vacation from hell! Entries included, “We have spent the past few hours listening to Dad play his terrible music,” and “Look kids, history …more history …more history …can’t wait until we get a day at the beach!”
This was not what I had in mind for journals of a vacation costing an arm and a leg. So I confronted the kids about it. They laughed and said when we set out, they decided to keep a spoof journal that did nothing but make fun of me and this trip. I wasn’t exactly down with that but since it was all in good humor, I let it slide. Much as they tried to diss the vacation for comedic relief, their journals later produced some real gems that I would save and cherish for years to come. The first sign of profound things to appear later was a simple acknowledgement that said, “I like the small things but appreciate the big things. The big things bridge it all together.”
By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!