PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: THOMAS JEFFERSON’S LEGACY, BEAUTIFUL MONTICELLO
Welcome to the eleventh installment in a series about travel destinations related to our presidents. We’ve been to the Texas White House, The Western White House, The Summer White House and The Little White House. We’ve visited cemeteries, ranches, libraries, museums and even residence of the Confederate President. Now we’ll visit one of my favorite homes in the United States and it just so happens to be presidential – that’s Monticello, Thomas Jefferson‘s home.
My Visits to Monticello
I’ve visited Monticello twice. The first time I was a captive in the back seat of my parents’ car. Their attitude seemed to be, “This is your heritage, gosh darn it, and you better appreciate it.” Let me be honest with you. Given my druthers back then, I might just have traded two weeks of American History in for a day at Disneyland. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my parents were doing me a great service.
In the years after that trip, Thomas Jefferson was not just some guy in a history book. He was the guy who invented some very cool stuff I’d seen when I visited his house. Washington was the guy who had that pretty blue and white china in his dining room (Wedgewood). Lincoln was born in a tiny log cabin and I knew it wasn’t as big as my parents’ living room, because I saw the facsimile they’d built at his birthplace. The dry history on the pages of the textbook assigned to me for a semester became something real.
Chances are, if you took your kids on a family vacation, like the one my parents took me on in 1969, you’d get the same sort of heavy sighs and reluctant cooperation that my parents put up with. I urge you to take the kids anyway – and don’t let them watch movies in the back seat. Make them sit up straight, look out the window and talk about what they’re looking at. Quiz them about what they see, what impresses them and what disappoints them. The video games are not going anywhere, but the empty spaces in your kid’s heads are filling up fast. Best to put some stuff up there that you want them to have.
I returned to Monticello in 1999, thirty years after my first visit. The first thing I noticed was that it had shrunk. In my memory the house outstripped anything on Lives of the Rich and Famous. Sure, it has about 11,000 square feet of living area, but back in 1969 I hadn’t been to Europe. Those guys get the whole idea of a country estate. They call them castles.
Being dragged to Monticello by your parents is also quite different than traveling with your husband. Bill indulges me, trailing through all the museums I find, but he wouldn’t fuss if I didn’t need to visit so many. Monticello, on the other hand, completely captured his imagination.
By occupation, Bill is a very successful options trader. But that doesn’t keep him from an interest in everything from architecture to zoology and all subjects in between. He and old Tom Jefferson would have been fast friends. As we wandered from room to room, Bill was enchanted with the design and execution of the house. He loved Mr. Jefferson’s taste in decor. Mr. Jefferson’s inventions like mechanical doors, great clock and reading lamp stirred Bill’s imagination. Then we walked outside. Bill’s interest in the man multiplied geometrically. In fact, even though that was twelve years ago, merely the mention of Monticello or Thomas Jefferson will send Bill off into the stratosphere.
Monticello should be on everyone’s bucket list. Kids should be taken as soon as they are old enough to comprehend the magnitude of what they are seeing and not so late that they will ignore it simply because their parents took them. Then, we should all return as adults to appreciate what we couldn’t comprehend as kids. And no – you can’t take Bill with you unless you take me, too.