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The Power of the Past to Dictate Our Future

Commentary: I absorbed books on ghosts as a kid. Anything to do with the supernatural was good. You could leave out the books with the fairies and the unicorns. A trapped soul that slunk around a weather-beaten shack that once was a grand manor house? Now that was my jam.

Reading was an escape from tedium, and plenty of the books came from the library. 

When my mom first came to the United States from Germany, that's one of the institutional marvels of the country that helped her learn English, along with "General Hospital," Phil Donahue and Oprah. Every city we lived in held at least one beautifully organized library, many with great architectural details that reminded me of churches in Germany, but with more windows.

I could take stacks of books home with me, almost too much to carry. I'd place them around me in a circle, like a fortress, on the floor of my bedroom before reading. Some of my favorites are still in the piles of books that my daughter has, having inherited those bound comforts.

It's safe to say I have a soft spot for books. When the request came through from the kids' school to buy books from their wish list, it was a no-brainer to contribute. What should I pick to buy out of the curated lists from their teachers?

The kindergarten teacher requested books to show how homes looked in other countries and how different families had breakfast. Wonderful; let's sign up for buying those, especially after my son told me sadly that his favorite breakfast "toasted tortillas, egg and salsa” was given the evaluation of not being "a real breakfast" by his classmates.

He choked up telling me this, explaining, "I thought how Papa would be sad about hearing that." I told my son that I was glad he wanted to defend his dad, but some people just didn't know how breakfast was like in our family.

The curiosity and derision of kids are things that I experienced like my son. There were comments about it when I was in elementary school, but I remember in high school when one ditzy gal caught up to me in the parking lot to ask, in low tones but with sneaky, excited interest, "Were people in your family ... Nazis?"

I told her I didn't know. "Maybe?" I said. It didn't embarrass me; it was a valid question, even if viewed as a broken attempt at stilling mundane curiosity.

Flash forward to now. I had looked at the request list from the school's library. One book title caught my eye: "I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944." I bought the book and read it when it came in. Stories of atrocities are still stories that need to be shared.

Looking back in my education, I didn't see any exploration of our full American or world history, nor any discussion on how that history could inform us of humans' tendencies to do evil. Winners tend to write history, but educational textbooks seem to be written by those with the deepest pockets.

"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past," as said in George Orwell's 1949 novel, "1984".

The books that detail our past, both the good and the evil, shouldn't be hidden from our children. They're books we as adults might want to pick up from time to time as well. Ours is a land of ghosts trying to tell their stories, and the only way we can unify our future is to make sure we're listening to the voices who still need to have their say.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millenial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted by email at cassie@mcclurepublications.com