In the Museum of the Confedaracy

union & rebel vetsOn that blazing bright day in early August, I stood with my grandson inside a museum housing relics from what some still call “The War of Northern Aggression.” Some call it that in the South, anyway, which is where we had come on this family vacation.

He and I had paused to let our eyes adjust to the dim interior, I holding the flower we had just bought outside, a palmetto “rose,” skillfully woven out of the fronds of that tree. It was then that the elderly lady who took our money began engaging us in conversation.

“Are you back in school yet?” she asked the 11-year-old.

“Not yet, “ he smiled, and I instantly wondered if I should have counseled him to say “No ma’am,” and “No sir,” according to the etiquette practiced in this region. 

But if she noticed the absence of this social nicety, she showed no sign of it.

“When I was a child, school never started until after Labor Day,” she said. “Our children are already back now. 

“Where are you from?” she then asked, and we named our northern state.

Did she stiffen just a little? I wasn’t sure but I think she may have. Did I stiffen a little when my gaze fell on the bumper sticker available for sale? “Heritage, Not Hate” read its text, under an image of the Confederate flag.

Let me extend myself a little more and see if we can find some common ground, I thought. “It’s a beautiful building,” I said, indicating the space inside this 1841 structure.

“Yes,” she said. “Confederate soldiers came here by the hundreds to enlist in 1861.”

“For sure the past is all around us,” I remarked.

“My people fought for the Confederacy,” she replied.

“Oh! Did they all come home?” I asked, mindful of the fact that more American lives were lost in this war than in all our other wars combined.

“Yes they did!” she said, with emphasis. “Oh dear,” I thought.  Was this an insensitive question, coming as it did from a northerner?

I searched my memory for anything I knew about Civil War battles and came up with only one:

“I think of Gettysburg alone,” I said. “All that loss of life!”

Silence.

I went on. “I think of the accounts – even the old bits of film – of Union and Confederate veterans meeting 50 years later, and even 75 years later, a few of them. I think of the way they greeted one another so warmly, shaking hands in the very spot where so many fell.”

She paused a moment.

“I couldn’t do that,” she then said.

“It’s hard for people, I know!” I said. “My mother used to tell me how, in the years just after the Second World War, many Americans still harbored hostility toward the Japanese.”

“Many still do,” she said, and closed her mouth firmly.

Then it was my turn to go silent, because that has not been my experience at all. The 11-year-old and I thanked her for our tickets and moved in to the exhibit hall.

My sister in Florida tells me that way back, when a hurricane would come, an indigenous person of our southern coastal region would lash himself to a palmetto tree until it had passed. They knew that this short, deeply-rooted plant would never topple.

Maybe we are all “rooted, in this way,” all inclined to maintain the view of the world as it was first communicated to us. I just wish we could start feeing less “dug in” somehow. I wish we could be like those old soldiers and meet across our differences, our hands extended in fellowship.

Now watch these Civil War Veterans on film, from the documentary Echoes of the Blue & Gray 

Life Is Life – Even on Vacation

 

 

 

Life is life, even on vacation.

Three of us got splinters from the deck here on Kiawah Island.

One of us refused to let anyone take it out and ran screaming from the room at the mere sight of  the super-pointy surgical another one of us carries. The child hid for hours.

One  submitted to the surgery which you see going forward on the left here.

And one of us hoped her splinter would just plain go away, along with her computer problems, or, she hoped, maybe she could just arrange to die before she had to have hers dug out.

Anyhow it was vacation still, so we admired the sights…

Like the Kiawah River here in the Low Country …

We also went for a boat ride, sometimes going really F-A-S-T!

During that voyage, the baby dropped my water bottle into the drink though the boat’s captain did circle around and retrieve it, so as to keep things nice for all the creatures living in it.

Babies!

It was heaven.

It’s been heaven, though one of us got bitten by a crab.

Five of us went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant last night….

And four of us stayed home, three of us reading Curious Garage and the Hardy Boys and one dreaming her baby dreams.

I was the stay-at-home girl that time.

The tide got high.

The tide got low.

And finally finally finally I heeded all the advice I have had here,

counted what’s left of our money,

changed out of my bathing suit,

was gone for three-and-a-half hours on a pilgrimage to Charleston,

and came back at last from the closest Apple store,

with a sleek new MacBook Pro, which allows me to tell all this here. Yay!