We were not traveling as the crow flies. There was no direct line on our AAA map from Connecticut to Washington state. Our wagon seemed drawn to historic sites. Like magnets, their force was powerful in my Dad’s universe. If there was an historic marker or actual historic site somewhere along the route, we detoured. It was inevitable and excruciating. A chorus of groans would arise from the back seat as we felt the car swerve off course towards history.
I saw dead people. At Gettysburg, how could you not, given the displays of battle strategies, images of war dead and the hauntingly quiet pastoral setting where so many were killed. Dad, as an historian, was in heaven with the dead people’s stories. Though in thinking back on this walk over battlefields, I wonder if he was also troubled with memories of his battles in WWII with his Special Forces unit in Italy and his experience with tragedy in Korea. It had not been that many years since he had held a gun in war.
I am not certain if we picked up the two record sets of Civil War songs at a gift shop there, but as a kid I loved the melancholy music from both sides. The vinyl records slipped out of paper sleeves from within blue and grey album covers did bring the spirit of soldiers alive whether they had fought and died for a just cause or a lost cause.
Our historic detours along with a multitude of gas stops and food and bathroom breaks often lead to finding campsites after dark. We became Civil War re-enactors at Gettysburg, pitching in the night, battling mosquitoes and just trying to survive the vicissitudes of tenting on the old campground. Mom struggled with the Coleman stove to get a meal to the starving campers. We ate the grub on metal plates by the light of a Coleman lantern, its delicate mantel of singed fiber could disintegrate on a whim.
Finally we would find our dark niche in the tents and shivered as we buried ourselves in the cotton padded sleeping bags. The countryside surrounding us held the bones of long dead soldiers. Their voices carried a tune in the wind.