Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings

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History is the study of the past lives of people, whether they are in our nation, state, or locality. We come to know about our presidents, governors, senators, etc. We learn about the reigns of various Kings and Queens of different lands and how they ruled. We learn their failures too. And we see and read about their achievements, their conquests which brought on new ideas, not to mention, art, literature, culture and most importantly our civilization. This is why History is so important. Without the past, there would be no present. It is a fact, Man has always wanted to know where he came from, his past!

Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with the aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” whereas British statesman Sir William Spencer Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

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I have always loved to read history of different nations; anything in the past has always fascinated me. Growing up in the Edgewater/Larchmont section of Norfolk, my friends were my grandparent's and parent’s age group who shared with me the love of reading and how history was so important? Their eyes had seen things that my eyes have never seen, the human saga of their life stories, events that had shaped their lives, that one could not get out of a text book.

It was at Carlton Oaks School, Granby Street, in Norfolk, Virginia, that I found myself reading about famous people like George Washington, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. All these biographies made an impact on my life. Even at an early age I wondered if any of my family had joined the forces of Washington, or General Lee. Yes, I have memories of having these kind of questions in the second grade after reading Weekly Reader and a Children’s Reader’s Digest.

Also, it was at Carolton Oakes Private School that my third teacher, Mrs. Roberta Hutchings Ives taught me the enjoyment of reading and how to remember what I read. There were small reading groups and each pupil was asked to stand and read a few paragraphs. I remembered one day I was called on and Mrs. Ives said, “Robert, pick up at the 3rd paragraph and stop at the fifth paragraph. After I finished, she said, “Robert, close your book and tell me what you just read.” I could not do this. She replied, “Read it again. You read fine, but you need to remember what you read.” This was one of the most powerful messages she could have given to me.   

I was at Carolton Oaks Private School from 1957 to 1963. In the 4th & 5th grade we learned literature and every two weeks we had a poem to read, learn and recite in front of the class. At the time I did not like reciting or trying to remember an old poem, but as I have grown older, I have been amazed how often something I will encounter will trigger that old poem that was tucked away in my brain so long ago will bounce back, like it did years ago at the British museum in London. I was in the Egyptian exhibition and I came across the huge statue of Ramses II, often called Ozymandias by Perc Bysshe Shelley. As I gazed at this large statue that poem came fresh into my mind.

In my second career as archivist and historian, I have discovered a love for writing and documenting for the future generations. To record one’s life experiences is a pleasure. Unfortunately, no one of my generations seems to understand this. People go through life and never write down their thoughts and experiences. For six years I wrote a column for the Virginian-Pilot about the history of people of my area. I will continue here to concentrate on my memories of growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, in the section called Edgewater.

Norfolk has always been a transient place. Folks come from all over the world to settle here. And I have watched the customs and certain colloquialisms die that I grew up with.  Gone is the Southern Tidewater accent that was so predominate in our area.

Norfolk is my home and I am 7th generation to have been born in this area. My Hitchings ancestor George Hitchins came from the Eastern Shore to Norfolk County around the 1780s. And he were loyalist.

 When I was in my teens I started recording in my Life’s Journal. It was President Theodore Roosevelt who inspired me to do this. He kept a diary as a young man and he was very much a "macho man" in his day. He did not get the nick-name “Rough & Ready” for doing nothing. After I read his Biography and his Diary in Life Magazine, I decided to do the same. Since 1968 I have been keeping a journal to record events and the people in my life that have helped shape me into the person I am today. We meet people for a reason. Somehow I wanted to record my thoughts and life experiences. It’s been a long journey, with its pit-falls and disappointments. But my life has had a beautiful side too. I have traveled the world, I have a great wife and a good family for whom I am so proud.

I happened to be born in the suburb of Norfolk called Edgewater where so many inhabitants made an imprint on my life. This website is to record cherished experiences and memories of growing up in Edgewater.

I particularly want to thank Donna Bluemink of Norfolk, Virginia, my long time friend and co-worker in the Sargeant Memorial Room, Kirn Library, downtown Norfolk, for recommending that I set up a Blog. And I wish to thank my many friends who followed my column in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper for encouraging me to write my memories of growing up in Norfolk and old Norfolk County, now the city of Chesapeake.

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Robert Burgess Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com