When I was a kid, I had a paper cutout set that came out at Thanksgiving. It has a backdrop of Plimoth Village, and little paper Pilgrims – children and adults – as well as a handful of Native American men. I took great care every year in setting out the display, arranging it just so.
However, I don’t remember thinking that it was an accurate depiction of the First Thanksgiving. Somehow, early on, I was taught that the first Thanksgiving was more complicated, less neat, than the pretty story and paper people on the dining room chest. It may have been that I have an older sibling, and she read about Deerfield in school in maybe third grade.
As Thanksgiving approached this year, I thought about the paper set and my early Thanksgivings. How and when did I learn to doubt the nicely packaged story of a historic event? Is there an age at which you start to teach children to question the mainstream historical narrative, or do you begin there? How do you teach adults to dig deeper? Do you resist little things like toys which buy in to the mainstream story, just in case? I can at least answer the last one – not necessarily.
The paper set didn’t mislead me about history, but it might have encouraged me to think of it as something I could engage with. I asked after it yesterday, since I ate Thanksgiving dinner at my parents. My mom was able to lay hands on it immediately, despite the fact that they’ve moved a few times since I was a child. I took out all the pieces, and smiled. The set is a little piece of Americana and an artifact of my childhood.