A few nights ago, I was going through my personal archive–you know, that box with old notes from high school and pictures of unfortunate choices in prom dresses. I was looking for something very specific (and found it!), but I ran across this letter:
So, I guess this whole museum thing runs pretty deep. People often ask how I got involved with museums, and I almost never start with the Florence Ranch House. After all, I was just a teenager and not at all thinking about my professional future. But this letter reminds me that perhaps I should begin my museum story just a few years earlier. Looking at it with my grown-up eyes, I’m pretty proud of how professional I was, using the dot matrix printer and everything, but I also wish it was written in my truly atrocious 13-year-old handwriting. That would make a much cooler image!
This particular historic house is within walking distance of the house where I grew up.
It had always fascinated me, since it was surrounded by typical 1980s suburban tract homes. As a child, almost every family vacation included at least one tour of a historic house, so it makes sense that I would be interested in a historic home right down the street. I did end up volunteering there throughout high school, even though I was very disappointed to learn that there were no hoop skirts for the volunteers. I was definitely the youngest volunteer by several decades. Years later, after grad school, I ran into the manager of Historic Mesquite, and she told me they still had my volunteer time sheet. She also mentioned how pleased she was to see me working in museums.
Why share this with all of you now? Looking back, I find it remarkable that this tiny historic house museum took the time to answer my letter and put me to work. They taught me about the house and how to give a tour. I learned how to answer questions gracefully, even if the same question had already been asked several times that day. It was one of my first opportunities to be a grown-up.
This experience certainly helped when I took on DHV’s Junior Historian program ten years ago. I knew exactly where these kids were coming from, because I had been exactly like them. No one ever had to convince me of the value in working with teens in a history museum setting. We don’t know what kind of ripple effect their experience at DHV will have on their lives, but I know we have made an impact. And it is such a pleasure to watch these teens grow up!
And now, just over 20 years since writing that letter, I’m running a history museum. I’m no longer interested in wearing a hoop skirt, but I still deeply love museums and love to give a tour.
It should really be no surprise that this is where I ended up.