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You Are Here Now: What Mothers Do

In the foyer of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson hung maps. All the continents are there, Africa, Asia and so on, cartographed as they were known in the late eighteenth century. There are some close-ups, too, of the tidal basin and the mid-Atlantic states.

Bracketing the front door is a clock that registers both day of the week and time. It is a clock of Jefferson's invention, not round, but an elaborate affair of pulleys and ball weights that descend through the floor into the basement on one side of the door and then ascend (again through the floor) on the opposite side of the door.

Before I knew of Sally Hemings and Jefferson's slave-holding I thought he must have been an enormously gracious host, to be so conscientious about anchoring visitors in time and place.

It is what good mothers do. They instruct their children in what was, Bye, bye, and what is, Look, a bird, and what will be, Tomorrow we'll go to the park. They say, You are here now. People have gone before you and people will come after you, but you are here now.

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