Michelle B. Lee '18
Bishop Guertin High School, Nashua, New Hampshire
I spent my entire childhood engulfed in the world of my imagination. I spent countless hours draped in taffeta gowns of bubblegum pink, ocean blue and sunshiny yellow as a medieval princess: Lady Michelle. My castle was a nearby church and my moat was the concrete road. The jester? My brother Tom. I slipped a patch over my eye and sailed onto my bed, now Blackbeard’s pirate ship my treasure map drawn onto my wall in magic marker until Admiral Tom came in and revealed my map to the king and queen. Other days my lush backyard became dotted with tumbleweeds as I put on a hat to become a cowboy in the Wild West chasing the Indian, Sitting Tom. My saloon sheltered in my tree house. As I’ve grown into adolescence, my days of endless time travel have almost ended, my plaid skirt replacing the whimsical dresses and to-do lists replacing the hours of play. But not quite, my imagination and my world have one final fortress: Strawbery Banke.
At Strawbery Banke, a history museum comprised of restored houses, I exchange my skinny jeans for an empire waist dress complete with a bonnet and my world of imagination reopens. I am Mary Chase and my world is 1814, a time of James Madison and the war of 1812. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll let you, the museum visitor, in on my secret: I flirt with the boys through the language of my fan. If I’m waving my fan quickly, I’m interested, but if I fan myself slowly? Run! My world morphs, and my empire waist dress turns into saddle shoes and a blouse and skirt cut from the same cloth. Before you know it, 1945 is in full swing and now I am Helen Jalicki, my life filled with radios, WWII and lines drawn up the backs of my legs with eyeliner pencils, since nylons are rationed. But don’t tell my mother! I look at the sailors over the fence of the navy shipyard too…my mother probably shouldn’t find out about that either! I trade in my saddle shoes for an A-line skirt with crinoline itching my thighs, now Betty Quackenbush’s. Enter my world of 1955 and watch my nifty TV as the Cold War shivers on outside. I’ll show you my Elvis record, slightly warped since I sleep with it under my pillow so my mom won’t find it.
The worlds of my imagination are released, at Strawbery Banke, from the confines of Hardy-Weinberg equations and conjugating the subjunctive case. Here I can recreate those worlds, but instead of just inviting my older brother in, I invite hundreds of strangers, not just into the museum, but into my world, my imagination, my spin on history. There are 300 years of American history and old guys with Ph.D.'s have already written the history books. But now I get to write the history from the viewpoints of 17-year-old girls. I get my chance to say yes, Eisenhower matters but so does Betty. Mary, Helen and Betty matter just as much as Hamilton, FDR and MacArthur. When I open up my little world of history to the visitors, I realize the power of the individual. Individuals matter because all of them can open up their worlds to others and share history. Every individual who has ever lived, has influenced history and left a mark. They’ve mattered. They mattered when they were alive; they still matter today. Maybe I’ll end up a homemaker like Helen with four kids and a doting husband or maybe I’ll follow my dreams and end up in Zambia living and breathing my passion: public health. But either way my little world and my story are so much bigger than I am because they are something shared, something communal. My world and my story are pieces of the pointillist painting of the human condition: history.