Patrick Hill surrounds himself with history. It fills every room of his home. Civil War costumes occupy his closets. Military hats from the American Revolution and Civil War hang on one wall. An Enfield rifle and saber hang on another. And books are everywhere – shelves of classics on Greek history, novels about World War II generals – Bradley, Monty, MacArthur – bookended between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. In other homes you might find family portraits, in Hill’s home civil war photos adorn the walls. But perhaps these are his family portraits.
Patrick Hill is a history teacher at Lindero Middle School. History is not only his career, it’s his hobby, his heritage, his love. He skips quickly over his upbringing in Hollywood, and then his face brightens and his eyes glimmer with the same excitement he must convey to his students, as he talks about his genealogy.
“My family traces back to 1608,” he declares. “Thomas Graves, a great-great-great grandfather, married in Jamestown colony, Virginia. On an expedition with Captain John Smith, he was captured by Indians.”
And then he moves on with the story of his family as they traversed America – from Virginia, to North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, finally arriving in California in the 1920’s. He relates their lives as they were as close family as his own parents.
He models a uniform, the gray chevron striped uniform of Corporal Thomas W. Hill, “my great great grandfather who served in the 23rd Georgia Infantry.” He changes to the blue Union uniform of another relative. “Captain Adam H. Beaugardis,” he says with pride. “A champion shot, so good at shooting, he joined Buffalo Bills Wild West Show after the war.”
“This is how I teach,” he says. “Why just use a textbook when I can personalize history. I can show how we are all a part of history.”
Not all the tales he tells are ancient history. He talks about his own father with reverence. “My father was a hero. He fought in every major campaign of the European theater. Of the ten men in his original combat squad, he was the only one that came back alive. He went from fighting in North Africa to liberating Dachau.”
And Patrick Hill fought in his own war, Vietnam in 1969.
“We used to get artillery attacks almost every night. Viet Cong rockets were very rudimentary. They would just lob them in, see where they landed, and adjust their aim, walking them in. As a soldier it didn’t matter how good you were, how bright, how tough, how strong. It didn’t matter. What mattered was whether you were in the right spot or not.”
One day, Patrick Hill wasn’t. The concussion of a close hit tossed him through the air, slamming him on his back onto a metal ramp. And that, he says, began the medical problems that plague him to this day.
“I came home from the war and returned to school, majoring in history and philosophy. The war taught me that schooled people end up in offices and unschooled people end up in foxholes. I decided on school.”
Sometimes parents of his students show up at “open houses” and describe their own poor experiences with the study of history. They didn’t like history because it wasn’t relevant. “How can history ever be important?” they ask him. “How is it ever going to put a dollar in my pocket?”
“History,” he tells his students with fervor, “will tell you where you came from, who you are, and what your potential can be.”
Patrick Hill turns the teaching of history into a voyage, a voyage into a zone of imagination made real by his transporting himself into another time. His teaching is a manipulation of perception and imagination. And it’s his joy in life.