A recent television program that included wonderful views of Mt. Rushmore reminded me of a niece who once confessed that, for years, she believed that the carvings on that mountain were a natural phenomenon. We all had a good laugh at the time and recalled some of the equally silly mistaken beliefs we held as children.
One friend admitted to having thought that God’s name was Harold, as in “Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name...” He admitted that, once he realized his mistake, he felt a sense of loss at no longer being able to consider himself on an intimate first-name basis with the Almighty. But it was also quite a relief to know that a cranky man named Harold, who lived in his neighborhood, and who had repeatedly chased him and his friends away from the grape vines at the back of his yard, was not somehow related to the Harold and might have a direct line for reporting their misdeeds.
And it seems that those patriotic phrases we were required to memorize during our early school years got twisted around in a number of ways. One of us admitted to believing that our “one nation” was mysteriously “invisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Having thought that everybody else was mispronouncing the word, until she discovered that other word “indivisible” and realized its meaning.
I had to confess that until fourth or fifth grade, I often wondered just how “daunterly light” differed from regular light, but thought perhaps it had something to do with “the rockets’ red glare” and might be compared to the sparkle of fireworks, which so often accompanied that anthem that started with the words, “Oh, say, can you see by the daunterly light...”
I suppose that my longest-held and most embarrassing childhood misconception was a result of my poor grasp of geography. During our early grade school days, we had a traveling music teacher who was very fond of the works of Stephen Foster. Those, and American folk songs made up the majority of the selections in the song books she provided for us on her twice-monthly visits to our school. A place called Dixie figured prominently in many of those songs and I assumed it was a state that was located somewhere down there around Georgia or Kentucky.
At some time around fifth or sixth grade, we engaged in map work, where we colored in the states (which were named) with colored pencils on a mimeographed map of the United States. Eventually we had to take a test that required us to write in the names of all the states on a similar map with the states left unidentified. Having been more interested in doing an artistic job of coloring the states, I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention to their names and didn’t even realize that whoever drew the map had omitted the state of Dixie. At home, we had one of those wooden map puzzles which I’m sure was purchased by our parents for the express purpose of helping us learn the names and approximate locations of all the states, but again, I was more intent on showing off the speed with which I could put the puzzle together than I was with the names that were inscribed on all the pieces. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that I didn’t do well on the map tests.
After junior high school, we were assumed to know geography well enough that we could envision the places we would be learning about in our history classes. We were no longer drilled on our knowledge of geography, and an occasional mention of the Mason-Dixon Line only served to reinforce my belief in the existence of Dixie. Even though I never once saw that state on any map, my faith in Steven Foster held firm and it wasn’t until I was nearly twenty that someone finally convinced me that there was no such state. It was during a boring five-hour drive in the car that I was convinced of my error. We were playing a sort of challenge game, asking each other what we considered difficult questions. Who wrote “The Minute Waltz?” Who invented the light bulb? What’s the highest mountain in North America? Who discovered the Florida Everglades? What’s the capitol of Dixie?
A heated argument lasted until we got to a gas station and picked up a road map that had a small map of the United States, Mexico, and Canada on the back. Convinced I was right, I searched carefully for that elusive southern state, but in the end, was forced to concede defeat. Apart from my chagrin, I was dismayed to learn that, all along, such a place had lived only in my mind. I felt a great sense of loss because, in all those songs, Dixie had sounded like such a nice state.