Preserving Local Memory

Preserving Local Memory

The Great Falls Historical Society’s role in village life.

At our first Board meeting of the newly elected 2014-2015 Board, members asked about the “strategy” and “long-term vision” of the Great Falls Historical Society. I realize any vagueness about our aspirations and direction is entirely my shortcoming. Thus, I would like to share the long-term vision that I see, as GFHS President, and the strategy I encourage the Society to pursue.

I was touched by Pope Francis’ recent remarks about communities around the world struggling with the world’s “throwaway culture” - throwing away young people through unemployment and old people through irrelevance: “The economy is moved by the ambition of having more and, paradoxically, it feeds a throwaway culture. Young people are thrown away when (experience is lacking). The elderly are discarded because they don’t serve any use anymore, they don’t produce…In throwing away kids and the elderly, the future of a people is thrown away because the young people are going to push forcefully forward and because the elderly give us wisdom. They have the memory of that people and they have to pass it on to the young people.” (Pope Francis’ Interview with “La Vanguardia” June 13, 2014 by CNA Daily News)

THE PLACE where you live can be a place to manipulate -- come to a place, bulldoze it, build it anew, make a killing and run, whether actually or figuratively – or a place to disregard –a place to sleep in a bedroom community – a place to live with complete disinterest.

Alternatively, the place where you live can be a place where affection grows – where you “have such a love for a place that you want to preserve it and remain in it” (Wendell Berry, 2012). In other words, a willingness to experience “local” can enliven our sense of community and even touch our hearts.

Wendell Berry says it so well: “To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind and conserving economy.” (Wendell Berry, “It All Turns on Affection,” 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, April 23, 2012)

When we have affection for our place, it hurts us that Turner Farm (for example) looks severely deteriorated right now, or the Great Falls Grange is empty of community activity. We imagine in our mind’s eye how Turner Farm was a successful dairy farm where a remarkable leader of our community lived and farmed, and we begin to imagine ways that the property can be adaptively reused to once again become a centerpiece of community life.

TO SUSTAIN A LOCAL CULTURE, we must engage in an effective dialogue across the generations: “For sustainability to happen in the stewardship of humans, there must be a cultural cycle, in harmony with the fertility cycle, also continuously turning in place. The cultural cycle of unending conversation between old people and young people, assuring the survival of local memory, which has, as long as it remains local, the greatest practical urgency and value. …The fertility cycle turns by the law of nature. The cultural cycle turns on affection.” (Wendell Berry, 2012)

Continuing a vibrant local village culture, our Society’s legacy for future generations to enjoy, depends on the active involvement of our members – old and new - today. There are historic stories and oral histories to be written and/or filmed; there are historical photos, documents and artifacts to be gathered and archived; there are historic properties to be preserved and curated; there is a place to be found to display our historic collection. The continuing enthusiasm and curiosity of our membership is pivotal to the fulfillment of our mission – “To feel the pulse of earth where man has trod, and for the future keep the past.” Please consider joining our Society and volunteering to serve on a committee to actively participate in the work of the Great Falls Historical Society. Come experience the joy of discovering how things used to be, allowing the local journey of yesterday and the unfolding story of today – full of successes, struggles, wisdom, and foibles – to enlighten and fire our imaginations. Join us in creating a voice and a dialogue that communicates across generations, sustaining the story of our local culture in a way that nourishes and enriches all who come to live in our place on earth, our very special village, Great Falls, Virginia.