For as long as I can remember, a map of the United States and a map of the world has been accessible in my home. When I was 5, the maps hung on the wall of our bedroom, right next to the large copy of our 4 generation chart. I remember many nights of not being tired at 7pm (or whatever time Mom & Dad put us to bed), so Jess and I would look on the chart to find where our ancestors came from, and then find the country on the maps above. Little did we know that we were learning geography–we just thought it was a fun game to prolong sleep.
A few years later, I was in 3rd grade when we needed to move from San Diego to St. Louis. By this time, I was fairly adept at map-reading, so my father enlisted my help in planning our travel route. I remember sitting there with the Rand McNally atlas out on the kitchen table, figuring out which highways would be best to take. He taught me to use the distance/time map in the back to pick the quickest route. Then we tried to think of fun places to visit along our way. It was a great experience for a young know-it-all kid.
Many years later, we had exchange students living in our home. These countries and cities we heard so much about came to life. People from Russia, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Croatia enhanced our family life for years. We learned about their culture, language and customs while they learned about life in America.
And then the craziest of all crazy ideas came to be: I would travel Europe alone at the ripe old age of 16. Now don’t think my parents were stupid (they aren’t), but the school took me to Germany as an exchange student for 3 weeks, then I decided to travel Europe visiting my exchange sisters for another 2 weeks. All those years of reading maps with Dad and my sister paid off, as I was now planning my own European adventure. I would have to survive in the middle of Paris, all alone, in the middle of a huge rainstorm, with only a map to help me find the many places I only dreamt of previously. From Hamburg to Paris to Madrid to Gijon, back through Barcelona, Basel and Copenhagen–I saw it all, and loved it!
Had those maps not been on the wall, had my father not taught me how to use them and appreciate them, I may not be the person I am today. My life would not be nearly as rich as it is today, and this is something I’m already trying to pass on to my daughter.