At American Village


Around the time I was twelve, someone bought a bunch of empty land in our Alabama county and built an exact replica of colonial New England called American Village, which I guess was a more appealing name than The Only Field Trip Your Child Will Ever Take Again. The gift of 1776 Boston in their laps was a godsend for our teachers, and American Village quickly became the Christmas Socks of field trips.


We went to American Village so often that it changed the very idea of what a field trip meant­: no longer a cool museum or a play, but a hot, worse version of daily life. Part of our itinerary included the chance to participate in eighteenth-century chores, ensuring that we would receive not only the most faithful colonial representation possible, but also the feeling that some things are worse than actually being in sixth grade. The workers put on brave shows, teaching us all the intricacies of Colonial America in elegant period-speak while pretending they didn’t still live in Calera. “Why no, there is no paper,” they would say. “This is a hornbook! It’s like a book, but instead it has Bible verses printed on animal bone. Here, read it. No, there is no air conditioning.”


I mostly spent my afternoons looking for cultural anachronisms and being very proud when I would find one. Whiffs of aftershave, “Employees Only” signs, flaccid sprinklers: each was an Easter egg to the false little act going on, and I would wave my hand energetically every time I found one, the little snot.


“Hey Patrick Henry,” I would say, “you smell like toothpaste.”


“Young man, have you any news from my dear Dorothea?”


“I can see your car from here.”


“Yes, but what of the harvest at Scotchtown? I trust it was a full bounty?”


“I saw you at Dairy Queen yesterday.”


Et cetera. During my last trip to the Village, the climax of the day was an on-field reenactment of a Revolutionary War battle, including a full-throated charge at our fellow students from across the battlefield.


The grade was divided into two flanks, and we surveyed each other from across the knoll. There would be a gunshot and a lot of yelling, but that is where my understanding of the rules ends. What would happen when we met each other? Slapping? Poking? Dancing? I don’t know. I never found out. Moments after the gun went off and the two sides charged each other at full roar, I was trampled beneath the feet of a hundred seventh graders as my father quietly watched from the sidelines. My hands covering my head, I was left behind on the battlefield, America’s saddest casualty.


As I lay prostrate in the dirt, watching through dust as my classmates charged away, I couldn’t know how true it all was—how accurate American Village could be at showing our origins, yes, but also how things would have gone had I actually been a part of them.