Echoes from Our Past #2: The Long Tail
As with my first post about Antietam and the Vacant Chair, I have started to weave some creative writing into my technology and business focused blog. If it is not for you, please disregard. I am writing this post from the reading room in the Norman Williams library in Woodstock Vermont, which was built in 1883. Outside the leaves are in full color and on the town green is chile cook off contest. More than a decade ago, I started writing a book on my experiences reenacting the American Civil War. I was motivated to write it because I had read Confederates in the Attic. I knew some of those people in that book and had been at the same places. Writing a book requires time and concentration.
Over the years I have found that I am productive in writing short stories, hence the blog. As I dig stuff out of my unfinished draft called Echoes from Our Past, I am going to post them here. Maybe someday they will grow into longer manuscript.
It is June 17, 2001 and I am traveling from my home in Boston to San Francisco for business. I travel frequently for business; sometimes making more then 150 flights a year. The travel can be tedious, but the time on the airplane affords me a chance to write and contemplate. Much of the time I have had to write was found on airplanes. I have had many of my best creative thoughts while gazing out over the horizon and watching America roll by beneath me. I am presently over the Rocky Mountains. The last wisps of snow dot the high recesses of the peaks. Puffy clouds float below me as if they were dabs of cotton caught in the wind.
It is just past Memorial Day and I am reading a June copy of U.S. News and World Report. There is a small article of towards to the middle of the magazine. It is so small that it is easily missed. The article and chart discuss the cost of our nation’s wars. A small picture accompanies the article. I am drawn to this picture. As I examine the picture, I realize that it is a picture of a Confederate soldier. At first, I thought it was a mistake. I dismiss the picture to an error in editing. Someone decided that the article on the cost of our nation’s wars should include a picture of a soldier. I concluded that the person assembling the article was ignorant of their history and had simply chosen a random file photo of a soldier. The fact that the soldier was from a war that ended one hundred and thirty-six years ago did not occur to this person. Historical and factual accuracy have never stopped the media from filling their pages – why should it now?
After examining the picture and noting the uniform as any reenactor would, I take the time to read the chart. The first line on the chart states that the government of the United States of America is paying benefits to thirteen dependents from the American Civil War. I am paralyzed in my seat. How could this be? This is a mistake. It is not possible. It is 2001. A new millennium has dawned for our great country. Over the past few months, our national media has been filled with stories about the passing of the Second World War generation. Some 13,000 of these great men and women are passing away each day. Our government has just decided to spend millions creating a monument to their deeds in Washington. The government has even stated that they are going to fast track the construction with the hope of having it completed before we lose many more of the generation. A great and powerful UNITED States of America that put a man on the moon in 1969, some thirty-two years ago – has still have not finished paying the dependents from those who fought in the American Civil War, a war that occurred in the 1860s – not the 1960s.
This is why the Civil War lives in our national consciousness. We cannot escape the occasional reference to it. When my father was born in 1931, there were still veterans from the Civil War alive. To think that my father could have spoken with a man who served with Lee or Hancock or Grant or Longstreet personalizes the Civil War. The Civil War is not destined to the pages of history, it closer then I ever thought. These connections to our past enable the past to come alive for us. I was born well after the last Civil War veteran passed away, but father was not. I live in a new millennium, in an America that the veterans of the Civil War could hardly imagine; yet, the last fleeting dependents from that generation are writing their final words on their shaping of America. Their book is not yet complete and as they draw their final words on our country’s pages, I wonder where they are. Are they in homes or hospitals? Do people visit them or care for then? Has someone taken the time to record his or her story? I hope that they are comfortable and know that someone cares. This is why the Civil War is important – because somewhere outside my 757 is living connection to that time and I care, only wishing I could know their secrets.