Remember and move on

photo(3)I’ve written about places I know and about many I’ve researched but never seen. It is always odd to finally visit the real location that I’ve held in my imagination for a story. Today is a windy, overcast day in late autumn, and I stand for the first time on the grounds of the civil war battle of Cedar Creek in Northwest Virginia. Battle grounds bring a hush over us all. People died there, often in the most difficult and painful of ways, and we know that they did. Lots of people lost their lives at this site, and thanks to my determination to write a battle scene as accurately as I could, I know more about these people than I do about those in any other battle ever.

I’m not a big fan of military history.  I have very mixed feelings about enshrining war and about the civil war in particular. I’ve lived in the south for most of my adult life and I still cringe at attempts to glorify the reasons behind the conflict. But my quasi-time travel novel z2 needed a complicated battle that could have changed the outcome of the war, and my history loving husband was delighted when his research acquainted us both with Cedar Creek.

photo(6) There is much about this battle to intrigue even the barely interested. A surprise attack at the crack of dawn began with soldiers sneaking single file along a pig path in the dark. It was a near victory for the south, close enough to the nation’s capital to have alarmed a war-weary nation already pressuring Lincoln to stop this nonsense and let the bastards secede. Cold, half starved confederate boys took advantage of a halt at a union camp to scarf down food and find themselves shoes and jackets. There was a commander who couldn’t or wouldn’t move those boys along, giving the union reinforcements the time they needed. There was a quiet engineer who received little credit for his contribution and a showy General Sheridan who rode in on horseback amidst trumpet blasts to save the day. In the end all the stories melded into a Union victory, a little more time for Lincoln and, well, the rest is history.

I don’t particularly like monuments, and I don’t think we should glamorize war. But as I stand in the wind I hear ten thousand stories calling to me and I stop and listen to a snippet here and there.

photo(7)Let go, let go of this painful past and move on, part of my brain cries. Enough with the deaths and the sad things they died for.

No! Remember us. Remember how it happened. Remember why.

Remember and move on. Such a tricky balance — to let go of the anger and hatred and yet to keep the lessons and even to keep the stories. Because they were real people. Real suffering. Real hopes.

I pause, and place my hand on the ornate plaque that tells a historian’s short version of the events, and I let the other stories I have read of those involved wash over my brain and heart. The wind picks up, my husband heads for the car. “You coming?” I nod. It’s time to move on.

For more thoughts about letting go check out my post on throwing out everything when cleaning out closets at Face Painting for World Peace, and my post about the difficulties of describing teens drinking on New Year’s Eve at With a Breath of Kindness Blow the Rest Away.

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Wearing the confederate flag as part of a costume

I don't think so

I don’t think so

As a resident of the deep south for over half of my life, I have strong feelings about the confederate flag. I believe that there is no place for it in the modern world other than as an historical item. It represents not only the enslavement of the ancestors of many southerns, but it also represents decades more of their mistreatment. My views on the subject are part of the plot in z2 and I am glad to see this more empathetic view becoming more accepted by southerners of all races.

A friend who knows my beliefs on the subject sent me this question posed in Teaching Tolerance, fall 2013, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
hillbillynerdOur school sponsored a “Redneck Day” during spirit week. An African-American parent complained about a student wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag. It was all in fun. Any advice?
SPLC responded: One of the most important principles for school leaders is a version of the doctor’s oath to do no harm. A corollary might be: Don’t poke fun at anyone. Yet for spirit week, in the hope of promoting unity, schools routinely sponsor events that rely on stereotypes – encouraging students to dress like nerds, rednecks or hillbillies. When school leaders approve such plans, they invite students to take lightly things that should be taken seriously – stereotypes, slurs and powerful symbols. Our advice is to consider initiating a dialogue among students about the power of symbols and find ways to bolster school spirit without drawing on divisive stereotypes.

bankerI found this interesting. Years ago my teen-age daughter chastised me for using the term “trailer trash” to describe how a place looked. It had never occurred to me that it was pejorative, but of course it is. Over the years I have come to believe that no group deserves to be lumped together and judged as one, whether I tend to like people from the group or, like the banker pictured here, they are less likely to have my sympathy.

In fact, the “don’t poke fun at anyone” suggestion above is wise, even though the idea of a “spirit day” at a school sounds so harmless. The truth is that whether it is dressing up as nerds, wall 30 Rock - Season 7street bankers, or dumb blondes — you are in fact making fun of somebody. And much as I dislike seeing people wearing the confederate flag, I can’t really fault a kid for wearing it on a t shirt when instructed by the school to dress up like a redneck.  I mean it’s a little like asking kids to dress up as famous despots and then sending one home for using a swastika on his Hitler costume….. what did you expect?
Surely there are ways we as humans can enjoy camaraderie and a few laughs without it involving making fun of someone else …. surely ….

It’s September. There’s hope.

daffodilIn the Midwest where I grew up, we looked forward to spring. One of my most vivid movie memories as a child (second perhaps only to my sheer terror at the wicked witch of the west and her flying monkeys) was a scene from Dr. Zhivago. After endless footage of snow and ice, the daffodils burst onto the screen and even a little girl could feel the hope in their bright yellow blossoms.  Ahhhh …. sunshine. Warmth.

And then I moved to the south. Now when the days begin to grow longer and the daffodils start to bloom, a sad resignation sets in.  Soon it will be summer and the windows will have to be kept closed and everything in my yard will wither and I’ll have to get up at 6 a.m. to go for a walk. Sigh ……

First I think that July is the worst, because you know this is going to go on yet for a really long time.  Then I think that August is even worse because it’s been incredibly hot for ever and it’s still going to be incredibly hot for a very long time.

autumnThen September comes. They days are shorter but it is still every bit as muggy as it was three months ago.  However, September brings something new.  Sooner or later, sometime during the month, there is going to be at least one cool evening, one time to sit out on the porch, one night to sleep with the window open. You don’t know when it will come, and it probably won’t be until late in the month, but it is coming.

We’re still a long way away from November, when we in Houston will have what passes for autumn if we’re lucky. Trees will turn and breezes will blow and for a few months we will get to eat out on the deck, just like the people in Moscow do in the summer.

It’s nice that where ever you live, there is hope.

Southern heroes worth celebrating

Friends who have read z2 have begun sending me articles and links to other blogs  discussing the disturbing tendency in my home region to glorify and revere some of the most vile leaders of the confederacy while overlooking the genuine heroism of people of all colors who stood up for human freedom and dignity. It is nice to discover that some of the more admirable characters in z2 have real life counterparts.

From CardCow.com

From CardCow.com

Please check out Chris Hedges column “White Power to the Rescuehere at a site called TruthDig, where  you can read about the battle in Memphis to cease honoring Memphis native Nathan Bedford Forrest, who along with other dubious accomplishments was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  Many citizens of Memphis would prefer the city instead laud crusading black journalist Ida B. Wells, who risked her own life to write about the lynch mobs in the area, or German immigrant  Jacob Burkle who used his house as a stop on the underground railroad for escaped slaves in the decade before the Civil War.

Part of the message of hope in z2 is that there are people from all backgrounds and all places worthy of our admiration.  Too often, however, they aren’t the ones who have been etched into granite and are shown riding in on a horse.