There’s an old underrated comedy out there called Defending Your Life. It stars Albert Brooks and the premise is after you die you go to this place of purgatory where you have to argue your way into heaven. If you lose your case, you are sent back to Earth for another try. While on “trial” there are any number of things the defendants can do, and one of them is the “Past Lives Pavilion.” The idea being you could see who you were on your previous attempts to secure permanent lodging in heaven. Of course, everyone wants to someone famous or important, but Albert Brooks’ character ended up being some terrified tribesman running from a wild animal. His joke was, in a previous life, he’d been dinner. I think the Past Lives Pavilion could kill these days. Everyone is digging so far into their past, why not add a little reincarnation to the mix? And, it is always with grandiose hopes that people approach these things. No one ever says, “In my past life I was a underachiever.”
It seems to me that people are taking more of a liking to history, or more specifically their own history or the history of things they are associated with. I see no problem in knowing where you come from, but I fear that it is just becoming another vehicle for people to validate themselves. I bet the people who actually care about their history are the ones you never hear talking about it, it’s a personal matter to them, something of singular interest and they treat it that way. The rest of the people are on ancestery.com trolling for someone famous so they can drop the line, “did you know my great-great-great-great uncle helped build the Panama Canal?” Well, no, I didn’t know that, and excuse me for not caring one bit.
Of course it has gotten to the point where there is now a television show called, “Who Do You Think You Are.” Much to my disappointment this show was not about someone going around with a camera confronting people. The guy in front of you at the touch screen in Wawa is taking 20 minutes because he’s looking at the thing like it is the control panel of the space shuttle? Boom. Someone hops out from behind the counter with a mic and says, “Who do you think you are?” But, that’s not the show. Even though it should be. The show is taking celebrities on a slow walk back through their family tree. The good news is, celebrities are just like the rest of us, they want their ancestors to be important too.
The phenomenon pops up in more subtle areas as well. I grew up in Malvern. I suppose if you wanted to be especially specific you could say it was Willistown Township. It is an area with its share of history. I know Malvern was founded in the 1800s and named after the Malvern Hills in Wales. There is a handy sign right in the center of Malvern and similar signs mark important landmarks of the Revolutionary War. Anthony Wayne, Paoli Massacre, things of that nature. Malvern is a pretty wide area, though. You could live in the borough. You could live further out like I did, and I think at some point the town you live in just wasn’t specific enough. It wasn’t historical enough.
Enter the historical societies. I’m sure they do some good, but now when you drive around the Malvern/East Goshen area and surrounds you see all these little signs. They say things like, “Historic Goshenville founded 1634.” Or, “White Horse Village.” The funny thing is, White Horse Village now is a retirement community not far from where I live in Media. But, to a one-square mile area of people out in Willistown they are representing hard for almost five centuries worth of Americans. Oh, my house? My property? That goes back to the colonies, son. I don’t live in Malvern. I live in Historic White Horse Village.
Of course, no one cares about that either. Like I said, if you have such curiosities go ahead and explore, but please don’t tattoo the results on your forehead. Some of us are still all right with being from Malvern.