Our sentimental journey through hallowed ground

The Giles County Courthouse

The Giles County Courthouse

This weekend the younger son and I took a quick road trip. It was time to drive out to Southwest Virginia to see my Mom and Stepdad. It had been too long since our last visit. Each of these visits is overshadowed by the thought that the next trip may be for a funeral.

sentimental4My Mom and Stepdad are the last of their generation in our family and I’ve made far too many trips home for funerals. The first of which was for my own dad. He died nearly 36 years ago at the age of 49. I was 20. Since then we’ve lost all of my parents’ siblings and their spouses. Well, except for one uncle who is now my Stepdad.

No, that’s not a creepy thing, but it does require a flow chart to explain. Perhaps in another post.

Back to the trip.

My wife was working this weekend and our oldest off to Georgia for a friend’s wedding. So, the fourteen-year-old and I hit the road. I decided a history lesson was in order so we planned a stop at Appomattox Court House where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the end of the War of Northern Aggression (calm down).

Appomattox Court House

Appomattox Court House

As we pulled into the parking lot, I realized that I had not been there since my 7th grade “Richmond Trip” which was closer to the 100th anniversary of the war than it is to the current 150th anniversary commemoration. Ouch.

Nevertheless, it was an important visit. We saw the buildings, heard the stories, saw the parlor where the surrender actually took place (okay, the recreated version anyway).

The McLean House, where Lee surrendered to Grant.  The yellow caution tape may or may not be the last defenses of the South.

The McLean House, where Lee surrendered to Grant. The yellow caution tape may or may not be the last defenses of the South.

The visit to the Courthouse and the drive through the area brought memories for me. Memories of a time some, gulp, forty-three years ago when perhaps many of us born in the south still looked at that war differently. I suppose in a way I still do. That was an era when honorable people were horribly, horribly misguided. If you disagree, let it go. Better yet, read some history. That’s not the point of this post.

But my nostalgia was not for the war, but for the time of my youth when I took my first big trip away from home. Nostalgia for the friends on that trip, some of whom thanks to Facebook, I’m connected with again. Nostalgia for friends on that trip who are no longer with us. The memories made me a little sad.

Inside the McLean House where the surrender took place.

Inside the McLean House where the surrender took place.

We got to my parent’s house later that afternoon. That evening after dinner (are you sure you ate enough?) we watched The Dirty Dozen…for the hearing impaired. It was a good, but brief visit.

On the way out of town I stopped at the cemetery to visit my father’s grave. I don’t often do that. I know he’s not there. I know graves are more for the living than for the dead. But there is something within me that still causes a twinge of guilt if I don’t stop.

The fourteen-year-old stayed in the truck and didn’t walk to the grave with me. I’m okay with that. He’s been there before. But to him, it’s just a name, just a grave of someone he didn’t know. I remember those days and feeling that way about ancient graves I was forced to visit. Some day, he’ll understand.

I’ve told my wife that’s why I want to be cremated and not buried. I never want my sons to feel guilty about something that, quite frankly, once I’m gone, I just really won’t care about.sentimental5

But I spent some time at my dad’s grave. I knew my stepbrother and his wife would be bringing flowers by later. My Mom and Stepdad see to that religiously. For now, however, only the flag commemorating his service in the army, post WWII and in Korea, decorated his grave.

I thanked him for his service. And yes, I shed a few tears. It will never stop hurting. I will never get over losing him so soon. I regret that my own boys never got to know him.

While none of us have the guarantee of another day, it is likely that I’ll take more of these sentimental journeys.

I do not miss the irony that I’m writing this and experiencing this after seeing Friday night’s opening of Leaving Iowa at CAT Theatre. Do yourself a favor. Go see it.

Today is Memorial Day. We often miss the significance of this day. It’s not about a three-day weekend, or the opening of the pool. And it’s not really about honoring our active duty military or our veterans. Although, in all honestly, we should damned well be honoring them every chance we get.

Memorial Day is about recognizing the sacrifice of those who gave their all. Those who went to war and never came home. Those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Let us never take that for granted.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13


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