Road Trip For Father's Day
When the girls were young, I took them on road trips over the Father's Day weekend. We never made plans. We just headed out in a direction they chose and stopped when we got somewhere interesting.
One year, we wound up in Natchez, Mississippi. What the girls forgot was how much I love history and they ended up with me on a double decker bus tour to see all the homes and get a feel for the history of Natchez and how it developed from a small huddle of tents on a riverbank in the 1700's to become by 1850 the home of fully half the millionaires in the United States.
As we rode (and they slept) it struck me there were four stages of development in Natchez and each stage produced a different set of innovations and leaders.
Stage 1 brought pioneers and pirates. Life was rough and tumble and Natchez was barely a foothold on the riverbank. No one knew if they were going to survive and those who did were unusual people. Life was uncertain. The wildness was everywhere.
But Stage 1 also forced a number of innovations along the river. The pioneers needed new maps and new tools for navigation. They needed new weapons for protection and so created a whole system of forts and posts that made it possible for the next wave of people to come.
Stage 2 brought the traders. Life was relatively safe. Traders don't like risk that outweighs opportunity. There were markets to be explored and companies to be built along the banks of the river. The traders loved traffic! The word "commerce" literally means "to traffic wares" and that is what they did. But they needed a way to move those wares to the markets and exchange them for goods they could not buy or make in the frontier. The two great innovations of the traders were the organized system of trading companies that stretched north and south - and the use of steamboats for getting their goods back and forth. The traders moved Natchez from a settlement to a city.
Stage 3 was the planters. The enormous homes of Natchez were built by the planters. These were not homes built on plantations for those were in other parts of the state or in other states altogether. These were the town houses of the plantation owners. Life was genteel and cultured. They traveled to Europe and imported the finest materials and products of the world. This was the period of great wealth and comfort for plantation owners of Natchez. The focus of most innovations in this period was making life even more comfortable. Plate warmers, indoor plumbing, fly catchers and ceiling fans.
Stage 4 began with the decline of Stage 3. This was the era of preservers. There are hundreds of people in Natchez today dedicated to keeping these homes and churches as close to their original condition as possible. There are thousands of people in Natchez who make a living because those people do their work so well. The business of Stage 4 is preserving the glory of Stage 3. People come from all over the world to tour the remains of Stage 3. The innovations are not so exciting as those for pirates, pioneers and traders but they are breakthroughs in paints, sealing wax and preservatives. Innovations all the same.
Each of us would fit best with a particular stage, I suspect. The benefit of our individual lives though is we get to live through all of them as we get older. There was a time for being a pirate and soon (for me) there will be a time for preserving those things I have learned to value and have built over the years. Not much glory, perhaps, but things I want to keep. Life is much like a town where you get to live through all the changes.