Everything about that one day seemed perfectly mediocre and routine. A few grey clouds dotted the faded morning sky. Wristwatches beamed 7:45 in glowing green. Sleepy-faced children dragged their backpacks across the gravel, optimistic smiles shining white as they predicted another exciting day of learning ahead. I was one of them.
The first different thing I noticed was that the door to my classroom was not the same. Instead of being the plain wooden brown door it normally was, covered with school-related notices and doodles of people who passed by with a pencil, there was a picture of a man. The man was wearing a bright blue and red hat with white stars. He also had a strange white beard and was pointing one of his gnarled fingers at me. Above this strange man’s picture was a blurb that said, “I want YOU for Mr. Wilson’s class.”
Although this man with the pointing finger confused me, I shrugged it off and shuffled into Mr. Wilson’s 5th grade class with my eyelids half closed. Once I saw what was inside, they flew open.
Plastered across the room was a panorama of the Civil War. Soldiers with guns fired and twisted faces dove at their opponents. Some lay on the ground, paled with lifeless eyes, while nurses knelt by their sides and gently dressed their wounds with quivering lips. Union soldiers with bright uniforms stained with blood, and Confederate soldiers in homespun trousers shot cannons that shook the earth.
Prior to that day, we were told that we would be learning about the Civil War. Little did he tell us that we would be a part of it. There were murmurs of general approval. We all looked across the room for Mr. Wilson, as he was normally there hours before us. Quite suddenly, in he marched, and our jaws dropped yet again.
Mr. Wilson, instead of his usual attire of a black t-shirt and jeans, was clad in a navy blue uniform. Horizontal stripes of gold were embedded in the sleeves, with brass buttons down the front. A plastic rifle was slung over his shoulder. Sharpied above his upper lip was a delightfully tacky and hastily drawn mustache.
Nobody said a word, but there was no shortage of giggling, skeptical looks, or smiles of approval. Mr. Wilson, seemingly oblivious to the reactions of the class, sauntered with his squeaky leather boots to a battered old chest that lay deserted in the corner. We all watched expectantly.
With a large smile, he tipped over the chest. The contents of the chest spilled out onto the carpeted floor as easily as if they were water. Sleeves from a dotted nurse uniform intertwined with a smoky grey uniform. A soldier’s badge thunked! against a plastic rifle. We all inched forward and peered at these strange clothes from another world.
As I tied the strings of a bonnet below my chin, Mr. Wilson gestured to the clothes and said, “Welcome to the Civil War. Pick your destiny.” These words might seem farfetched to any outsider, but anybody who had been in Mr. Wilson’s class for more than twenty seconds would understand he was very eccentric.
With that, we “picked our destinies.” I chose a nurse uniform that practically swallowed me. I looked around the room and saw many amusing cases of people picking theirs. A friend of mine was trying to squeeze into a tiny Confederate outfit, while a boy who sat across from me was admiring himself in an impressive navy coat and flexing his muscles.
When everybody was dressed in their new attire, we all marched down the old wooden stairs onto the grassy field, following Sergeant Wilson in his infinite wisdom. In moments, we had reenacted a battle that felt so real, it was hard to believe it was fake. The guys had a great time ramming into each other and crashing to the ground, tongues sticking out with eyes closed. I myself jogged around and attended to my fallen classmates.
We had recreated history. We hadn’t read about it in a book, or taken notes on it, or sat listlessly for over an hour and watched a movie. We had been there. We fought, we learned, and we had more fun that any textbook could offer us. On every kid’s face, the reaction was the same: Wow.
By the time it was time for the day to end, nobody wanted to leave.
I jumped excitedly off the bus and sprinted home, throwing open the door and collapsing into the kitchen chair after throwing my backpack on the ground.
My mother looked up from her papers and smiled at me. “Hi sweetheart, what did you do in school today?”
She asked me this question every day. Normally, I answered, “Nothing.”
That day, I had something different to say.
“We recreated history."
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