Meeting Ulysses and Thomas

It’s been history week for us. Kate loves history so we left out Monday morning and drove to Appomattox. And we got lucky. They were filming at Appomattox for a new movie to be shown at the Visitor’s Center, so there were several people walking around in period costume. As we walked into the square we were stopped because they were filming a scene with a wagon carrying an elderly gentleman and a little girl that came barreling into the square. We took the back way into the Visitor’s Center, picked up a guide, and proceeded upstairs to see the current video presentation.

And two words into that presentation I lost it. Those words: April 12. Hubby had a nephew that was born on April 12. I wrote about him here. He was a civil war re-enactor, among other things, and he took his own life at age 21 in 1993. We’ll never understand why, and we miss him every day.

As we left the Visitor’s Center and headed into the square, we saw someone who looked vaguely familiar. Upon closer inspection we discovered himself, General Ulysses S. Grant, portrayed brilliantly by Dr. Curtis Fields. He talked with several of us for quite a while and never broke character.

Kate and Me with the General

Kate and Me with the General

Alecto thinks I look like I’m going to drag him off to a hanging or something. I assured her that I was just suffering from the heat, or something!

Here is a video I found of Dr. Fields on Youtube:

I have a great deal of respect for those who work diligently to ensure that our history is preserved. As Dr. Fields talked with the children, he constantly reminded us that “the kids are the past’s future.” I’m not saying that we’re still fighting the Civil War, although we do joke about it from time to time. I am saying that our country’s history is important, and needs to be preserved. Dr. Fields takes great pains to ensure that his portrayal is accurate, drawing much of his information from General Grant’s own personal journals.

It was a powerful hot day, so we continued our visit at Appomattox by visiting the jail house (dismal place) and the McLean House where the actual surrender meeting occurred. We also took in the preserved general store, which reminded me so much of the little country store my great-grandfather used to run in Fancy Gap. As we walked back through the parking lot to the car, we saw General Lee coming through the lot headed back to the site for the afternoon’s filming. Because he was in the parking lot and not actually on site, we didn’t take much of his time but did stop long enough to thank him for his service in helping to preserve our country’s history as well. He was very humble.

We headed to Staunton to spend the night. After dinner we drove around town a little and discovered the local shopping mall. Or, what’s left of it. Most of the stores were boarded up, and the few that were open were virtually empty. It was sad and a bit surreal. Parts of it reminded me of some of the pictures you see coming from Detroit these days.

Tuesday morning we headed east across Afton Mountain to Charlottesville and Monticello. We got there early so we could walk around the grounds before our tour time, and before the heat became unbearable. The grounds are beautiful, just as I remembered them from the last time I was there, about 40 years ago. (There’s another scary thought that I don’t want to think about right now. As Scarlett says, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”)

We took the self-guided tours of the “dependencies” of the house-the slave quarters, kitchens and storage areas that are underneath the main house. Then we headed for the starting point for the actual house tour.

Monticello is beautiful. Period.

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After the tour we walked a bit more, then walked back down the hill to the visitor’s center before heading for home.

We had in interesting conversation about “haunted houses” when Kate asked if I thought Monticello was haunted. I said, “Of course it is, but probably not in the way you think I mean.” We talked about the memories contained in any given place, and wondered what it would be like to be able to access those memories in some tangible way. I think about that every time I drive past the old general store and house where my great-grandparents lived and worked, or when I pass the house in Christiansburg where my parent’s lived until Daddy’s death almost 10 years ago. I wonder how it could be 10 years already. I look at the pictures Kate took of me and I see my grandmother looking back at me, and again, I wonder how that could have happened, and happened so quickly.

We are all the total sum of our individual histories, and I think maybe we are also greater than the sum of our parts, if that makes any sense. During our walk through the underbelly of Monticello, we got to inspect one of the “indoor privies”. I told Kate about how, when I was a child, we used to play hide and seek and if you were unlucky enough to be “it”, you had to hide in the outhouse and count to 100 while everyone else hid. She said she would have cheated on the counting, and I said that of course we did too! Kate has no concept of actually having to use an outhouse for anything, and I have a hard time grasping the fact that, during my lifetime, there were people who still did. And they didn’t live out in the boonies, they were in town. Yesterday I watched a series on the History channel about the Nasa years, and I remember those heady days of our trips to the moon. Today I noticed the half-moon in the summer sky and I started thinking about the fact that humans have actually walked on that surface.

History. What does it mean, for us as individuals and for us as a nation, and for the world? Heavy stuff for a summer day.

Kate has decided that she would like to be a Civil War re-enactor like her cousin.  It makes me cry. We named her after her cousin because she was born three weeks after he died. I think a part of him lives on in her. She looks like him too.

How does this happen?

And how did THIS happen?

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One response to “Meeting Ulysses and Thomas

  1. I’m still convinced you had your way with him before you let him go. I’ve seen that look before and it ain’t tired.

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