Recently, after I met the Michel family, Anna snuggled up to her dad and listened intently as I asked him questions during a casual interview.
Paul Michel is the new superintendent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The family was visiting the sanctuary’s southern gateway at San Simeon’s
Normally, I’d be reporting about what Paul said and his views on such topics as desalination plants, Davidson Seamount, the wreck of the
Later. This is about Anna.
She continued to watch me and listen, obviously making mental notes about something.
Finally, her mom, Bev, explained that the home-schooled child has an assignment to interview her grandmothers, ages 80 and 70.
Wow! What a great way to learn about history!
The Michels have an unusual household. For instance, they don’t have TV, preferring to have Anna and her mischievous younger brother Alex get news from newspapers — which can be put away when the stories get too intense or repetitive for young folks.
Paul and Bev also minimize at-home computer use, wanting their children to refine writing skills and penmanship at the same time.
I explained to Anna why I ask certain interview questions and what I hope to learn from the answers.
Then she started asking me some insightful questions of her own.
What a delightful change from the "shutters slamming shut behind the eyes" reaction one often gets from children, teens … and even some adults.
I told Anna about a questionnaire I prepared long ago to help pry memories from reluctant senior citizens.
Some people slough off questions about their lives. "I’m nobody important," they protest. "I don’t have anything interesting to say. And if I do, I don’t remember it."
My questionnaire seeks to overcome that informational dam with topics as diverse as "What did your mother pack in your school lunches?" and "What were your early homes built from, and who built them?" and "Did you have a pet, and if so, what?"
I also suggested other ideas, such as having a tea party for Grandma and other relatives or longtime friends.
Show them photos from long ago, and it can be amazing what recollections those pictures will trigger. The seniors often will spar with each other about who really is who in a photo and what they really were doing.
A video or audio recorder can capture those good- natured arguments and the priceless tales within.
I also asked Anna to send me her reports when they’re done.
Anna, Alex and other bright kids provide the decidedly upbeat answer to a vital question — do future generations really care about learning, or about the history of a house, a village, a nation … or a family?
That night, I thought what fun it could be to have Anna, Alex and our youngest grandkids all together at an event like
We’d bring some hoops to roll (or hula) around the Guthrie-Bianchini house, and play some Victorian-era games, to match the house. We’d share a picnic in the shade of the big trees and have a good, old-fashioned time.
No Xbox? Who cares? We’d have fun just being together. And we’d all be learning, too.
At the Castle ceremonies the next day, Anna greeted me with another incandescent smile, a big hug and a tightly folded piece of notebook paper.
As buddies often do, even across generational divides, we talked and giggled off and on for a couple of hours.
Later, I opened her paper.
It was a multicolored sketch of a waterway, pretty flowers and bees, with a note in her neat cursive writing:
"Dear Kathe, Thanks for being so friendly and welcoming. You inspired me. Your friend, Anna Michel."And the same to you, dear Anna. Absolutely.