Don’t Know Much About History by
(234 Stories)

Prompted By Regrets

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I’m sure most of us with birthdays inching up to four score haven’t gotten this far in life without chalking up some regrets.

Did I pursue my early aspirations for an actor’s life?  I didn’t – a reget.  (See Theatre Dreams)

On our honeymoon we met a lovely couple from New Orleans who invited us to come stay with them for Mardi Gras.  We didn’t,  and over the years we lost touch – a regret.

And years ago other friends bought a plot of land in the Berkshires and urged us to buy the neighboring plot.   We didn’t,  another regret.

And when I finished grad school in the late 60s the Peace Corps was recruiting librarians to establish book collections in underdeveloped nations.  Why didn’t I go?  Big regret.  (See Good Girl)

And then there was that fabulous four-story uptown brownstone we were invited to share,  and regrettably said No.

And was I at Woodstock?  No.  (See What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?)

And the silent auction/fundraiser we went to with friends who won an all-expenses-paid trip to France and offered to share it with us,  and we said Non.  Mon Dieu,  what were we thinking!

And then all those “What ifs?”.  (See Cherry Coke and The One Who Got Away)

And back in college a big regret.  My American Literature  professor,  the renown Walt Whitman scholar Gay Wilson Allen,   urged me to declare myself an American civilization  rather than a lit major.   But I didn’t want to take all the history and political science courses required,  so I declined,  and of course later regretted the missed opportunity.  In fact,  as I remember,  other than one American history class and a Western civ survey,  I took no other college history courses and now have big gaps in my worldly knowledge.

Of course I have only myself to blame as since college I’ve taken many courses –  some as a matriculated student on several study sabbaticals,  and some adult ed courses,  and some university courses I audited for fun.

But did I fill my glaring gaps with history or poli sci or world events courses?   No.  Instead I opted for music surveys and art history;  cinema and poetry;  the art of the short story;  pottery;  Shakespeare’s early plays,  followed of course by Shakespeare’s later plays;  a few writing workshops;   feminist lit;  French;  a memoir writing class;  African American lit;  proofreading,  classical and modern drama;  and a few more literature courses.  (See My Love Affair with James Joyce)

So it seems it’s my karma to learn about the ancient world from the novels of Robert Graves;  and my Russian history from Tolstoy;  and English manners and society from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

But I guess there are worse teachers.

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: College, Education, History
Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Quite a compendium of regrets, Dana. But all reasonable and well-founded.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    You could certainly do a lot worse than see history through the eyes of the arts, which are so essential to our humanity. And it’s still not too late—I think it is easier to catch up on poly-sci and history than the sciences (as I rationalized when I did all the ore-med courses, not knowing if it would be for nought). Those other regrets? Ouch. You are not the only one to ignore the forest for the ever-present trees.

  3. Wow, those are some impressive regrets, Dee. I guess the bottom line is that we can’t have it all, but we sure can have a lot of it!

  4. Suzy says:

    Well, Dana, as for studying history or poli sci, it is certainly not too late, you could take some Great Courses, like John has done, or go to a community college. As for the other regrets – the brownstone, the trip to France, the plot in the Berkshires – I guess it’s best to assume that by missing out on those opportunities, you gained something else instead. I kind of regret not joining the Peace Corps too, but I’m sure if I had, my life would have ended up being completely different, and not necessarily better.

  5. Marian says:

    As they say, Dana, “Who knew?” Your list of regrets resonates with so many of us, albeit with minor variations. My brother joined the Peace Corps and never regretted it, so I lived that experience vicariously through him.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I loved this essay, Dana. All of those regrets about the things you could have done or opportunities you passed up resonate with most people of a certain age. But your education — that’s a regret you have actually worked to overcome. Lifelong learning is so important. I suspect the history you would have learned back in your college days was a narrow slice of the pie. The fact that you want to keep at it is what really matters.

  7. Any essay that begins with Sam Cooke can’t be half-bad! You managed in just a few well chosen phrases, for each circumstance, to bring me right in to feel a vicarious regret, to taste the disappointment. BTW I love your menu of courses in college!

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