Monday, June 11, 2007


In the sticky summer heat of 1863, Union and Confederate soldiers collided in the largest battle of the Civil War, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Some 160,000 Americans took part in what would be called the turning point of this war. In November of that same year, President Lincoln would give his famous Gettysburg address, cementing his legend while giving the namesake town yet another claim to fame (and more trinkets to sell 150 years later).

But none of this matters.

Skip forward to the end of World War II when my grandmother Suzanne Harbach and her husband Harrison "Skip" Harbach moved to Gettysburg and settled in for life, thereby condemning their future grandson to hours of history lessons when all he wanted to do was run around pretending to shoot things.

Despite their most valiant efforts, my mother or grandparents never managed to instill much respect for the place in me. Gettysburg was not the place of a famous battle, but rather the place where my mother grew up and where, on visits, there was nothing to play with but her old toys from the fifties. Being a child of the eighties, you can imagine my horror. When the movie "Gettysburg" came out, I thought it was hilarious that someone had made a movie about my mom's hometown. The historical significance didn't kick in until I was much older. Say, yesterday.

Last night Grandma and I went on a sunset tour of the battlefields. Up until only a few years ago, she had spent her retirement as a battlefield tourguide. These saps paid $45 for a two hour tour, while I was getting the thing for free, though I could tell she was working her addled mind into overdrive just trying to remember everything.

"This is a statue of Brig. General John Dunn, who... uh... well maybe you can get out and read the sign. At any rate, have we been to the light of remembrance yet?"

"Yes, Grandma."

For the uninitiated, The battlefields encompass several hundred acres, and dotting the entire landscape are statues erected by regiments from all over the nation to honor their dead.

The tour was amazing, much better now that I'm an adult and can appreciate these things. It's just a shame it takes one so long to truly appreciate family. You spend your youth rolling your eyes and taking them for granted, and then when you're old enough to fully appreciate them, they either die or start to lose their memory.

It was worse at home. She proceeded to show me a picture of her father and his family, which was certainly interesting hearing direct information about my own ancestors, but it was slightly tragic when she turned to a painting of my mother as a young bride in her wedding gown and said, "Now this is a picture of my only daughter, Louise Ann Harbach. She died in December, which was... extremely... upsetting to me." She paused a moment, and then said, "Now let me show you how to turn on the bathroom light."

The bathroom light did not possess a number of toggles and switches that one might expect from such a statement, but, predictably, a plain old light switch.


Kirsten said...

I'm sure anyone reading this who has elderly relatives can relate to your experiences. Despite the patience you had to practice, I know Grandma appreciated you visiting her.

Assuming that the Internet hasn't reached Gettysburg yet, how did you post this recent entry?

Keep including pictures with your posts. They're beautiful!

(Scott's sister)

Hilary said...

I agree with Kirsten, the pictures are great!


Valerie O'Shea said...

The trip sounds beautiful so far. Life is ridiculous for not letting us appreciate people until they're fading away. Awesome that you got to visit your grandmas. And to third your sister's comment, the pictures are gorgeous!
-high five-


Scotticus said...

I went to a cafe on Chambersburg Street that offered wireless internet. These cafes will be my lifeblood this summer.

Thanks for the comments about the pictures. I was particularly proud of the one with the tree and statue in silhouette.