So now that I have confessed my sordid past of being a card carrying member of the Microsoft geek squad, many of you are thinking, "Why?" Why would I give up a lucrative career to eventually end up working as an interpreter at Conner Prairie?
On Wednesday of this week, I was working in the Animal Encounters barn. It was ridiculously hot and humid that day, the heat index above 100. A father, son and grandson approached me to meet the newborn lamb I was holding. The young boy was particularly interested in the animal's horns. I showed him how the horn had hair growing on it and explained that horns really were just that, hair, only very dense just like a fingernail. As our conversation continued eventually the grandfather looked right at me and asked, "Christine, why do you do this?" He gestured as if to add, "under these extreme conditions."
The quick answer would have been to say, "Hello, cute baby animals, what's not to love?" However, I could tell the man was sincere, and he really wanted to know why I would stand around all day, sweat dripping down my face and back, so I could explain to a five year old that horns are really just hair. My answer instead was this:
"I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm right here in Indiana. I made mud pies in the garden, squeezed chicken manure through my toes and watched the circle of life unfold in the barnyard every season. My Dad took me tracking, trapping and fishing. I had a section of the garden to tend and call my own. I learned more before fifth grade about what is really important in life than most people learn in a lifetime. I had the best childhood a person could ask for. I can't take all of these kids fishing, but I can teach them about the animals and share a glimpse of the circle of life and I firmly believe they'll be better for it."
His smile broadened as he said, "I'm glad you're here. I brought my son here when he was a child and now I'm bringing my grandson for the same experience. Thank you for doing this."
Of course, my answer really only scratched the surface. My own family history is another great motivator for me. I have an ancestor, Fanny Brooks, that raised sheep and took in spinning and weaving to support her seven children after her husband was killed. Her family followed and settled near the Wabash River instead of the White, but they were here in Indiana during the same time period as William Conner and so the stories are similar. I have record of her sending her sons out to herd the sheep to the livestock markets in Cincinnati the same as the Conner's did. I guess I could say I feel pride of ownership. I feel that I am somehow honoring my ancestors for all the work they did to settle and organize this state. Prairietown is a good representation of my ancestor's lives as there were farmers, blacksmiths and businessmen alike.
Then, of course, the new Civil War Journey Raid on Indiana exhibit represents a long forgotten family feud. Theodore F. Hinton, my third great grandfather enlisted in the 7th Indiana Calvary immediately following Morgan's raid to defend his home and farm. It just so happens his first cousin, Benjamin Butler, had been one of Morgan's men doing the raiding. After Benjamin's capture in Ohio, the Butler's were never really heard from much again and were certainly never invited to the family reunions.
While my connections to Conner Prairie's history runs deep, the future of the organization draws me to it as well. Playing a part in reestablishing an extinct breed of livestock, getting children excited about the science of agriculture and helping to fill the gaps in a failing public education system to me is far, far more important and will have more of a lasting impact than helping some CIO somewhere figure out how to slash his telecommunications costs.
I guess my answer to, "Why?", could really be summed up in four words. I believe in it. That's why I do it.